Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Limitless Learning

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is trying to change the face of education in Idaho through what they call "Limitless Learning.  Here is their definition and a video about their successes and failures in funding education projects.

Limitless Learning:

  • Real world relevant
  • Technology enabled
  • Outcome based
  • Creative and innovative
  • Accessible anytime, anywhere
  • Student focused
  • Supported by caring, committed leaders

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Khan Academy Dissent

The One World School House, Education Reimagined by Salman Khan, Part  3

Established systems resist change so it only makes sense that Khan Academy has had its detractors.  Here are some thoughts from the other side of the story.

         Related posts:  Part 2, Part 1

Dr. Keith Devlin, Mathematician from Stanford University wrote a Huffington Post blog titled:  Khan Academy: Good, Bad, or Ugly?  Devlin seems to object as much to the 60 Minutes portrayal of Khan as the lone hero who saves the system.  He states that he is "significantly qualified 'for'" Khan Academy, a rather damning faint praise, agreeing that smart students who like math would love KA, but the rest need "a good, inspiring human teacher."  He seems to have missed the point that the KA videos have allowed teachers to "flip the classroom" so that teachers actually have more time rather than less to work with individual students.  Students are exposed to new concepts through videos and exercises at their own pace.  In their own study areas, they can pause, back up, repeat as much as they want until they get the material being presented.  Classroom time is then used for enrichment, simulations, learning games, group projects or special help.

Education writer Valerie Strauss hosted a guest post for The Washington Post Local by Karim Kai Ani, a former middle school teacher and math coach, and the founder of Mathalicious, which is rewriting the middle school math curriculum around real-world topics.  Ani's post is titled: Khan Academy: The hype and the reality.  Ani complains rather bitterly about the quality and style of Khan Academy videos and about a comment Khan made about how he prepares for making the videos … basically he uses a casual, unscripted style.  And, he sometimes gets things wrong.  However, replacing or reworking a 10-minute YouTube video is a pretty simple thing to do when errors are pointed out.

Ani states, "Sal Khan is a good guy with a good mission. What he’s not, though, is a good teacher."  Khan responded to this post beginning, "We believe that we are in the early days of what we are and feedback will only make that better.  I agree with you that no organization should be upheld as a magic bullet for education woes.  We have never said that we are a cure-all and think we have a lot to do just to fulfill our potential as a valuable tool for students and teachers."  

The exchange between Khan and Ani focuses at length on the mathematical definition of slope and is probably only of interest to academics.  The crux of the issue, for Ani, seems to be commitment to teaching standards.  Because Khan's videos are simple, it is easy to think they are simplistic.  Because he doesn't labor over plans, it is easy to discount the time and effort he has poured into developing the Academy.

After reviewing Mathalicious, this seems to be one of those false "either/or" debates.  Ani's lessons are interesting, well-thought out from both a teacher's and a student's point of view, and well-produced.  He is obviously passionate about math and finds interesting ways to engage students … from shooting craps to analyzing how the iPod "shuffle" works.  Mathalicious charges a reasonable monthly rate for its lessons, probably not enough to get wealthy, but too much for me to pay to casually review.  The one that was open was listed as a 120 minute lesson.  Obviously, it serves a completely different purpose than Khan's ten-minute videos. Mathalicious helps teachers enrich their group time; Khan takes the drudgery of basic concepts out of the classroom and into the self-paced privacy of the student's room.  This is a "both/and" solution and these guys should fall in love with each other.

Audrey Watters in her blog Hack Education posted The Wrath Against Khan:  Why Some Educators Are Questioning Khan Academy calling it an "explainer post."  She calls Khan a lightening rod and posits that his videos will replace teachers.  Everyone talks about the 3000 videos but few talk about all the money being poured into the software that is being designed specifically to help teachers be more effective.  Khan Academy is dedicated to teachers having more time and more resources to teach.

The main problem between Khan Academy and the world of teachers may be Bill Gates.  Gates has come out against increasing teacher pay for advanced degrees in teaching.  It's easy to see why this would not make him a popular person in the education world.  Since Gates called Sal Khan his favorite teacher, Khan is tarred with the same brush.  Watters continues to focus on the videos and seems to deliberately ignore Khan's insistence that the videos give teachers time to humanize the classroom and provide the type of hands-on learning that leads to true mastery.

Derek Muller did his PhD thesis on educational science videos and is the creative mind behind Veritasium, the YouTube science video blog.  His videos are fun, exciting, educational … and very different from Sal Khan's.  Muller doesn't believe that Khan's science videos actually create learning and it's worth watching this video about why … and it's worth watching some of Muller's videos just for fun.  My favorite … so far .. is The Most Amazing Thing About Trees.

As much as I enjoy watching Muller's videos, they go by really fast and I'm not sure if I'm learning or just being entertained.  On the other hand, I am also watching some of Khan's science videos which go much slower and repeat concepts and terminology frequently.  Again, I think it's a "both/and" thing and maybe only significant testing will determine which is the better teaching method.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The One World School House by Sal Khan, Part 2

Sal Khan turned the world of education upside down when he created Khan Academy with a mission to "Provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere."  (For the backstory, see the previous post.)  Here is his TED talk to give you a better idea of what he's done and where Khan Academy is going.

One of his first opportunities to test his software and programs came with a program known as Peninsula Bridge with its mandate to provide educational opportunity to motivated middle-school kids from underresourced schools and neighborhoods.  The program uses the facilities of a number of Bay area's most prestigious private schools to host invited students, tuition-free for a summer session.

Peninsula Bridge used Khan Academy video lessons and software at three of its campuses the first year in addition to, not in place of, a traditional math curriculum.  Knowing these students had math gaps but not knowing where the gaps were, two of the three teachers in the program decided to start the math curriculum at the beginning with Basic Arithmetic (the "counting avocados" video shown in the previous post) even though the students were in the sixth to eighth grades.  In what Khan calls "swiss cheese gaps," the program quickly revealed gaps in basic subtraction, multiplication, fractions and division.

Even though the other group started at the fifth grade level and were expected to be at more advanced concepts by the end of the six-week period, it turned out that the group that started at square one gained mastery at each step and quickly passed the group that seemed to have the early advantage.  The conclusion was that all students needed some degree of remediation.  During this program, Khan Academy developed software that identified when students were "stuck" and needed one-on-one interaction.

Khan tells a story of a seventh-grade girl who was among the least advanced of the students at the beginning of the summer, and during the first half of the session, her progress was among the slowest.  She was "stuck."  Then something happened that neither Khan nor her teacher could explain:  something clicked.  After that she progressed faster than the rest of the class and wound up as the second most advanced of all the students and showed a genuine gift for math.

Khan's thinking doesn't end at free video tutoring and this book is rich in ideas and thoughts about how we can reimagine education.  Here are some of the other things he believes belong in the One World School House:

Follow natural attention span patterns:  Studies show that students have a natural 10-18 minute window of focused attention after a brief settling down period.  That is the highest period of learning retention.

Focus on content:  Khan Academy videos focus on a blackboard and information being created by an unseen person.  Humans are hardwired to focus on faces which can interfere with focusing on the content.  While interaction with teachers is important, it should be separate from the first exposure to content.

Mastery learning:  the progression of learning should move at the pace of the student's mastery. Proceeding with new concepts before the old ones are mastered creates gaps that will cause learning to stall and lead to eventual failure. Numerous studies have confirmed the effectiveness of mastery learning.  Tests that allow students to advance to new concepts upon receiving a passing grade of 70% (or less) only insures eventual failure.  

Knowledge is continuous:  No concept is sealed off from other concepts.  Ideas flow and new concepts need to be connected to previously learned concepts.

Active learning:  Students need to be involved in active learning.  As Khan states, "They shouldn't just take things in; they should figure things out."  Khan highly recommends apprenticeship or internship as a method of active learning.

Flipping homework:  How much homework is the wrong question … a better question is "why?"  One large survey from the University of Michigan found that school success is more correlated to frequency and duration of family meals than time spent on homework.  Khan suggests that homework and class time be flipped.  Concepts would be introduced at home through videos or other independent, on-demand learning modes and then explored and applied during class time.  

Larger class sizes:  Khan suggests grouping classes together with multiple teachers. For example:  a classroom of 75-100 students would have three or four teachers to create a much more flexible and collaborative learning environment, supported with integrated technology where students could spend chunks of time in self-paced, independent learning and teachers could collaboratively team in a way that utilized their strengths and gave them time for planning and development.  Khan states, "I believe a multiple-teacher system would go a long way toward solving the very serious problem of teacher burnout."

Mixed age grouping: Age grouping students seems fundamental but actually didn't become the norm until after the Industrial Revolution.  This simple decision led to the development of arbitrary and fractionated curricula with expectations moving in lockstep regardless of individual student readiness or interest.  Khan recommends remixing ages so that older students are teaching what they've learned and becoming leaders in the process while younger students are emulating their "heroes."  It's a remodeled version of the one room school house, a process now being experimented with by Marlborough School, an all-girls prep school in Los Angeles.

Redefine Summer: Summer is a magical time for fun and play, however, it is also a time when learning begins to unwind and disappear for a large part of the student population who do not have the opportunities to participate in nourishing and memorable activities that keep learning alive and deepen it.

Student evaluation: Grades are neither objective nor meaningful appraisals of a student's potential for learning.  Khan states, "I would propose, as the centerpieces of student appraisal, two things:  a running, multiyear narrative not only of what a student has learned but how she learned it; and a portfolio of a student's creative work."  He also proposes a series of "micro credentials," … rigorous, internationally recognized assessments that measure understanding and proficiency in various fields.  These could be taken at any age, regardless of where or how the understanding was gained.

Internships: At Canada's University of Waterloo, engineering students typically experience six internships totaling twenty-four months as part of their undergraduate studies.  Waterloo interns are in high demand and graduates successfully compete with graduates of the best American universities.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

One World School House, Salman Khan

The One World School House, Education Reimagined by Salman Khan

Very often, big-I innovation comes from the outside, from someone who doesn't know "it can't be done," from someone without credentials, connections or credibility.  This is the case with Salman Khan who blundered into becoming Bill Gates' "favorite teacher" and is now spreading free courseware across the world, primarily through YouTube videos which have racked up over 250 million views.  

This hedge-fund-analyst-turned-accidental-teacher started out trying to help his 12-year-old cousin who was having trouble with math.  Sometimes there is such a need vacuum that a good idea is sucked into a vortex and goes viral almost on its own.  Khan's cousin did well and other family members and friends wanted help so Khan began using simple, hand-drawn, step-by-step videos designed to lead students to success.  

Khan's premise is that the pressure for uniformity and curriculum goals leaves many students with gaps in their understanding which eventually stall their ability to learn new concepts.  He has a gentle, accepting style that honors each step in the process even when it seems simplistic.  

To get a sense of his videos and style, watch the following video on basic arithmetic and pretend that everything you know about math has been erased.  Also, think about the fact that this video has been viewed 1.7 million times … a level normally reserved for dancing cats.

Khan began tutoring his cousin in 2004.  By 2009, he had quit his job to run Khan Academy full-time, trying to live up to his wildly ambitious mission to "Provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere."  By 2012, the Academy was involved in the education of more than six million students per month ... a number he states is more than ten times as many as who have gone to Harvard since its inception in 1636.

As Khan continues to think about what education should look like, he has developed several ideas beyond technology-enhanced, self-paced learning which will be addressed in a separate blog post.  This post closes with the following statement from Khan:
Formal education must change.  It needs to be brought into closer alignment with the world as it actually is; into closer harmony with the way human beings actually learn and thrive.
This is a must-read book for anyone interested in the present and future of our education system.  The next post will outline some of his ideas that go beyond video tutoring for all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Extended Learning Time (ELT)

The TIME Collaborative … Time for Innovation Matters in Education.

Why Time Matters(click here for video)
There is a growing movement of teachers, administrators, parents, students, non-profit leaders and business people who believe that if the American education system is going to "catch up" and make close the achievement and opportunity gap for all students, there needs to be more … and better … learning time.  The Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning have launched a five-state initiative to add at least 300 more hours of learning time for all students in participating schools.

The launch event held at Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., brought together national, state and district education leaders to discuss the possibilities of a longer and enriched learning day.  Videos of this event offer an overview of the players and issues in this new collaborative effort which uses the ESEA waiver process to make federal funds more flexible.

Five states involved:  Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee

Promising Practices … Click on subjects below for more info.
More Information:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Top High Schools - Stories

Virginia High School Is Best in the Nation
U.S. News ranks America's Best High Schools for third consecutive year

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., the top school in U.S. News & World Report's America's Best High Schools rankings, is designed to challenge students. A course load of offerings that include DNA science, neurobiology, and quantum physics would seem to be more than enough to meet that goal. But students and the faculty felt those classes weren't enough, so they decided to tackle another big question: What are the social responsibilities of educated people? Over the course of the school year, students are exploring social responsibility through projects of their own design, ranging from getting school supplies for students with cerebral palsy in Shanghai to persuading their classmates to use handkerchiefs to reduce paper waste. The One Question project demonstrates the way "TJ," as it's referred to by students and teachers, encourages the wide-ranging interests of its students.

"None of our students has the same passion," says TJ Principal Evan Glazer. "But having a passion is widely accepted and embraced."

Top 10 High Schools:

10. International School (Bellevue, Wash.)

Across Lake Washington from Seattle, International School is not a "true" international school with students from across the globe; rather, it challenges its students to think globally. All students (grades six through 12) are required to take seven years of either German or French.

9. BASIS Tucson (Tucson, Ariz.)

Advanced Placement exams are part of BASIS's graduation requirements (the school pays for the tests), and most students can graduate after 11th grade with sufficient credits for admission to Arizona state schools. Those who stay through 12th grade complete an internship or research project.

8. School of Science and Engineering Magnet (Dallas)

This 400-student college preparatory school was created in 1982 to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities in the professional science and engineering fields. The school is No. 1 in the nation for the number of minority students passing the AP calculus test.

7. Pacific Collegiate School (Santa Cruz, Calif.)

Students at this charter school, about 70 miles south of San Francisco, must keep a C average to advance to the next grade level and must also complete a community service requirement. The school strives to foster a commitment to lifelong participation in public life.

6. Newcomers High School (Long Island City, N.Y.)

Newcomers High has stayed true to its founding mission of being a gateway to American education for immigrants. Its goal is to move students into regular schools after one year; those who enter in the ninth grade rarely stay for more than one year before transferring.

5. School for the Talented and Gifted (Dallas)

Composed of a diverse student body (about 28 percent of students are Hispanic, and 24 percent are black), TAG is known for its robust liberal arts education. The school publishes a monthly literary magazine featuring editorials, poetry, and fiction stories.

4. Oxford Academy (Cypress, Calif.)

Students get a big leg up at Oxford Academy: They enter either its business or its biotechnology and medical programs and are prepared for careers in those areas. They must also take at least five Advanced Placement courses to graduate.

3. Whitney School (Cerritos, Calif.)

About 75 percent of students are Asian at this L.A. magnet school, which serves only the most academically qualified students in seventh through 12th grade. The school aspires to be "the best public college-prep school in the world."

2. International Academy (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)

As an International Baccalaureate certified high school, IA is the first public high school in North America to offer the full IB diploma program, an international education program that encourages cultural understanding and respect.

1. Thomas Jefferson High School (Alexandria, Va.)

Located just outside Washington, Thomas Jefferson High leads the pack in our ranking not just because of its challenging academics, which include neurobiology and quantum physics. Students there also explore what social responsibilities they have as educated people.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Digital Ethnography

This is a very powerful video from students at Kansas State University on digital ethnography.

Here's a K-12 version: