Homework in a 1:1 Classroom – It is Time to Re-Define The Terms

curvilinear relationship

Curvilinear Relationship

This is a graph that means something very odd. This is a graph many research get when they study homework. What this graph means is this: Doing some homework is better than doing none at all, but doing larger amounts of homework is actually less beneficial than doing smaller amounts of homework.

Does this mean anything about homework? No. Not really. What it means is the way we approach and study the topic, apparently since the late 1880s, is flawed. I suggest starting over, and in 2014 starting over can be easier than in 1914 because many educators are lucky enough to work in 1:1 programs. These programs allow schools to redefine the keyword in the compound word homework- WORK.

I have been asked to be on a panel about 1:1 programs and homework and to make a presentation on the topic. As someone who always assumes what I know is flawed or outdated, I re-read some homework research. I re-read some Roger Schank who I feel is usually ignored by K-12 educators but is in fact one of the worlds best experts on human learning. I looked passed the politics and the concept that in many cases homework is babysitting and a tool for punishment.

In conclusion, I have decided that when working with children above year 7 in a 1:1 school, schools need to stop saying this is your homework, and start saying this is THE WORK.

THE WORK

When students begin a course of study they need to know what is expected. The first 1-2 weeks should be spent explaining and exemplifying where they need to be by the end of the course and why they need to be there. This should be broken down into the estimated number of hours the average student needs, and the resources and skills required, to complete the course.

In addition students should understand the payoff. Is the course designed to simply level them up? It is designed to prepare them from some third party assessment? Is the outcome actually meaningless for academic purposes, but meaningful for other reasons?

This is the work. This is what they need to understand.

Hours of time to complete something are finite. Students can understand that. If they are not reaching a certain goal in a certain amount of time then they will know they need help or they need to study more. Adolescent children lose track of time all the time. They also lose track of value, money, and many personal possessions. Giving them some metric they already understand to help maintain their space in a course, is a good idea.

This only works though if the teachers understand the work. I firmly believe many teachers assign work that they feel should take an hour, but actually takes much longer. I do not believe most teachers simulate the work to make sure their plans and expectations are aligned with reality.

The Work in a 1:1 Environment

If the course and course work has been defined, then leveraging the 1:1 environment is the next step. Weather flipping-out a classroom with media or simply organising all the materials for digital distribution, the next step is to give the students everything. A friend of mine use to call this giving them “the brick”.

Every student should have everything the teacher has. This includes but is not limited to old exams, samples of work, teaching notes, links and resources, search terms for databases, etc. Anything that is not illegal to share with students, should be shared, in mass, and immediately.

This immediately makes the 1:1 program a real resource. It allows students to have immediate access to information and new opportunities for learning. This process eliminates the ubiquitous and time wasting “Googling” students get lost in, which I find to be a core waste of classroom time.

The teacher must be able to initially help students organise material, or come-up with strategies for organising the material. The teacher also needs to review the skills needed to use the material. However, shouldn’t they be doing that anyway? Instead of doing it in small pieces, the tools and skills are given up-front.

Day-to-day there are topics that have to be covered. At the end of a 2-3 day cycle teachers should be aware of how much class-time has been used effectively. If class-time has not been sufficient, then students immediately can be prompted to do the work on their own until they are at, or close to, where they should be in the course.

The Work Outside the Classroom

If students are aware they are behind, especially as a class, then teachers can easily assign tasks to them to keep them moving on their own time. Because students have the materials and resources at the ready, teachers merely need to have a strong grasp of the time needed to cover material and master skills.

Asking students to “read for the next class”, is not going to influence them to actually read and pay attention. However, looking at 30 students, dividing them into groups of 5, and dividing the reading by 5, means five groups get to make 5 discussions and lead the learning. The assessment for something like this would be in realtime, done in the classroom, and can easily be explained to the students.

This technique can literally be used all the time with reading. Students can team up, open their materials, and start working. They can work in groups at school, online from home, or asynchronously in numerous ways. They all have equal access to resources and communication. Communication strategies for this type of work can be suggested or modes of communications can be strict and monitored. The options are there, and the problems are easy to resolve.

When students need to do key assessments such as mid-terms, final exams, mock exams, etc., reviewing in class will often lead them to believe that the content in class, is the content on the exam. Working outside the classroom and using the material they have and tools for group work, they should be able to collectively create exam-like questions, and answer them. The teacher can provide oversight and correction during class-time.

I use these two examples as they seem to be the most common types of activity that teachers and students engage in- reading, discussing, preparing, and assessing.

Everyone always likes to throw this around as a great educational theory~ Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

If I had a dollar everytime I heard someone say “UBD”, I would have a bunch of dollars. Like many things though, schools and teachers tend forget this little gem by Wiggins and McTighe~ THE SIX FACETS OF UNDERSTANDING . In summary those are:

  • Explanation
  • Interpretation
  • Application
  • Perspective
  • Empathy
  • Self-Knowledge

Just to be clear, this means when students are working and learning, they need to be able to explain, interpret, and apply information and skills. They also need to be able to see around the concepts, find errors, explain the errors, and understand other points of view.

Applying a traditional model of studying for tests by doing homework, does not meet this standard. Students should spiral through explanation to self-knowledge often. They may never achieve self-knowledge, but they need to always be heading there.

Following the path of homework to test, is a circle, and those who master the circle, can master the appearance of achievement. UBD does not seem to be possible without including the six facets. Yet, they are often ignored.

In a 1:1 program the students should be able to use their own time for the initial exposure to new material, skills, and ideas. They should be able to use the class-time to engage with the teacher. The teacher can use the class-time to push the students further into the spiral of learning, and use the out of school time to move from regurgitation of content to actually creating something or proposing something new.

Walking The Path vs Jargon

A few days ago a friend of mine when to a job interview. When it was done he said, “I am not sure what they are doing at the school, but they use alot of jargon and buzzwords.”

Much of what has been written could be construed as a rant, a theory, or an untested philosophy. I would like to admit to teaching and running my classes in the manner listed in this post since 2005.

I worked like this, because it is how I would want to work. I always resented not being able to know what I was going to do next in school. Sometimes, playing the numbers, I knew I could slack off during a semester if I only knew what was coming and when. In high school I was very busy with more than school. In university, even more so. I wanted to do things, and sometimes I just could not do my homework. Sometimes, somethings, were bigger than homework.

Even with year 5 students in robotics I would post videos showing what the next robot could look like, and more importantly, what it could do. I would post pictures of robots and the homework was for the year 5 students to go home and find problems with those designs.

Even with adults doing professional development I use these techniques. I send people required to do PD after work information and tasks. If they get those finished, they can go home. If they have more questions, I speak to them during the event while others are doing things for the first time. Every teacher has a laptop so I expect them to be able to use it for learning not just showing presentations.

Do The Research

I encourage everyone to spend a few hours, yes hours this is not Twitter, to read the following resources. This is important, because after doing the research it will be difficult NOT to agree with me. :)

Flipped-Classroom by Cara Marlowe 

1.http://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/1790/MarloweC0812.pdf?sequence=1

2. http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/03/gathering-evidence-that-flipping-the-classroom-can-enhance-learning-outcomes/

Does Homework Matter by Alfie Kohn

1. http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/hwach.htm

Classrooms are a Terrible Idea and Trial-and-Error by Roger Schank

1. http://www.rogerschank.com/education.html

2. http://www.amazon.ca/Teaching-Minds-Cognitive-Science-Schools/dp/0807752665

3. http://www.inf.ufes.br/~cvnascimento/artigos/referSchank.pdf

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Opinion, Tech Integration | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gestalt Thinking and The IT Department

gestaltLast week I spoke to someone who was doing some consulting work at an international school. They were trying to assess what was causing the various problems. It was not money or resources. It seemed the administration was trying to make things work. So as we began to speak she asked me a few questions about the organizational structure. I gave her a very clear answer and opinion. She told me what I told her was contrary to every other person she has interviewed about these problems.

I told her I firmly believed that if a school can support and afford it, the technology structure should be formally defined as Educational Technology (EdTech) and Business & Operations (BusOps).

I told her that certain plans and projects should fall into each of those divisions and be managed according to strategic plans and initiatives. In other words, the IT Department needs a clear focus, people need to know their main roles, and the regular school administration should be involved in tracking and accounting for the IT projects.

If a school cannot afford the staffing to support a real separation, then the policies in procedures governing the IT department should clearly define priorities, standards, and
any and all division of work.

In my current role I have a 70 page policy manual that is growing. It will soon be, after much debate, split into an EdTech/BusOps model. Various types of projects will start to be filtered directly to people who can do those projects autonomously, because those projects were planned and budgeted.

Does this mean as a department we will never meet and plan? No. It means after we meet and plan with the school administration, we each should be able to do our work with some oversight. I ask for oversight all the time from the network engineer, and he asks for my oversight on projects that impact the classroom. As a team we make timelines, we debate over priorities and resources, and we constantly allocate jobs to each other.

However, when the year is coming to a close, and it is time to reflect, we have projects that each group of people has completed or failed to complete. We can report on issues related to EdTech separately from issues related to BusOps.

But here is the problem, and I know this all too well because I use to be “the problem”. I was the IT coordinator and integration specialist who would blame the IT engineers and support staff for everything. I accused them of not being diligent and focused. I believed they did not care. I saw them as the weak link, and eventually I took it upon myself to manage them from that perspective.

It worked. Things seemed to be better and more organized, but there was a huge downside. Firstly, I was still completely dependent on them for supporting the school, I could not actually do all the work alone. Secondly, they were so afraid to make mistakes that I could not expand the technology past a certain point.

So I had to change. The first thing I had to do was listen. I found that these people had not always been the way they were. They had been marginalised, blamed for issues they predicted but were unable to resolve due to funding, and no one had given them any sort of additional training or time to pursue learning.

Of all these things, the last one I consider nearly insane. I do at least 6 weeks worth of training a year just to stay even, if I want to really grow, I need a solid 8-12 weeks of training. I do this mostly on my own time and spread the training over the entire year. My contract allows for professional development, and in the past, my contract also allowed for professional development. The engineers and IT support people were allotted nothing. No time. No training. How could they improve?

The next move I made was to make a list of everything they had done, and done well.
I clearly started communicating these things to everyone, and in every way I could. I wanted them to be able to own projects and successes as individuals in a department.

Finally, I started telling teachers and staff to back-off. No more verbal demands. No more undocumented communication. No more narratives about slow internet. I made reporting issues a formal non-email process, and jobs were assigned based-on skill set and location. If we were short staffed, everyone did their best to cover any and all jobs.

Essentially, I split the department by separating the projects and responsibilities.  I was able to see who had skills that needed development, and I planned and funded professional development for the team.

The end result was also a huge policy manual and a smooth running department that could walk into a problem and walk out with a plan.

This was along time ago, but I still follow the same practices. A team should be able to do things that are greater than the sum of the individuals’ qualifications.

Plan. Budget. Divide. Conquer.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Educational Technology, Opinion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Teachers & Administrators: Please Take the Assessment Reporting Survey

Teachers and Administrators, 

I need some data on how you do assessment reporting at your school. This survey is quick, and can be totally anonymous. This is for some research I am working-on.


Assessment Reporting Survey

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Weighted grades suck

Man, I’ve been gone for far too long. I mean my last post was like back in the Reagan administration! So I thought I’d come back to blogging with something not really too techy but nonetheless important. I want to talk about weighted grades and how bad they are and what we can do to replace them.

What are weighted grades?
Weighted grades utilize categories and then each category has a certain percentage. I know that’s not very clear but check out the example we will be using for this post below.

Categories:
* Tests = 40%
* Quizzes = 30%
* Homework = 20%
* Participation = 10%

As you can see if you add up all the percentage you will reach 100%. This is the basic set up for weighted grading. Teachers can have more or less but it must add up to 100%.

Why do teachers/schools use weighted grades
It all has to do with volume. If you use a point only grading system, where everything has a point value and no categories, and you have fifteen homework assignments that total 500 points and two tests that total 200 points, then you can see how homework grades can overpower the assessments. Check out the example below to see what I mean. Let’s assume this is a typical student with no extreme test anxiety.

As you can see this student (completely fictitious by the way) did reasonably well on her/his homework (B average) but when it came time for the tests, there is a big drop. You can also see they are nearly failing, but when you see the C+ on the final grade you think – this student didn’t do too bad. The final grade doesn’t reflect what is happening. What is happening was that the homework grades were overpowering the test grades thus not giving a realistic depiction of what is happening. There can be a lot of explanations here, maybe they were working on their homework with a tutor, friend or parent but maybe didn’t prepare for the tests too well, thus the student had not reached any mastery at all.

So people came up with weighted grades. Let’s take a look at those same grades but weighted. Let’s make the weighting for these grades equal 50% for homework and 50% for tests. What we need to do is multiply the percentage by the average for each category and then add them together.

Now the average is 72.94%. A little more reliable. Now, let’s re-weight those categories. Let’s make tests 70% and homework 30%. Now the result is a 68.36% (D+ grade). This works even better. You are probably saying to yourself Patrick – what’s the problem? This seems to work! At first it does but let’s look at a more complicated scenario in the next section.

When and A- actually equals a B+
In this example we will look at student with 4 different categories listed below.
Categories:
* Tests = 40%
* Quizzes = 30%
* Homework = 20%
* Participation = 10%

Now let’s go take a look at Fred’s grades (I like the name Fred). So check out the Fred’s academic performance.

He has a steady 90% A- right now but that will change. I am going to give Fred an A (94%) on his next quiz and watch what happens to his overall grade.

Holy crap! Fred had an A-, received an 94%, A on his last quiz and his grade dropped from a 90% A- to a B+. Now let me say that one more time. Fred had 90% = A-. He took a quiz and scored a 94% = A. His last grade was higher than his overall averaged yet it dropped his grade!

So what the hell happened here? Why did everything go all pear shaped. Why did up become down? For that we need to look into the math.

Here is the formula which explains how this is calculated. I’ll write it in words and then with numbers:
(Tests weighting) + (Quizzes weighting) + (Homework weighting) + (Participation weighting)

The actual equation:
(85.1 x .40) + (97.6 x .30) + (84.9 x .20) + (90 x .10) = 89.3, B+

The first set of numbers represents the test weighting and so on. What happened was that Fred had a 100% quiz average before quiz #3. When he scored an A, it dropped his quiz average which ultimately dropped his overall average. So there it is – the correct math explaining why a students grade dropped from an A- to a B+ even though they scored an A on a quiz.

This is not some mythical grading unicorn that doesn’t happen ever – this happens all the time, every year. I mean how do you explain that to a student or a parent? How do you show them this (or similar equation) and expect that to justify that their student did well. It’s not good enough. It simply does not seem fair.

How did you do that again?
Another issue with weighting grades is the math behind it. As you can see, the math behind it is not that difficult, yet I would guess that over 50% of teachers I’ve encountered who use weighted grades could not explain it to their students or parents.

I’ve even have had high school counselors come to me and inquire about situations like this. These are smart people but in their mind it doesn’t make sense even though it is mathematically correct.

Now if the teachers and counselors are a little unclear about it can you guess how many students know how to calculate their grades? Yep – shockingly low. Shouldn’t people understand how this is calculated? You bet they should. Transparency within school is key to its success. It shouldn’t be a black box where the only people who knows what is happening are the people working there.

Solutions
The first thing to do is take weighted grades and dump them at the beginning of the next school year. Just dump them man – get rid of them. Then move to a point only system. Here you can have a few a choices of how to deal with points but it boils down to good planning.

1,000 points
This solution is give all teachers 1,000 points. They have to create assignments, assessments, projects, whatever but it must total 1000 points. This forces the teacher(s) to plan carefully, thoughtfully and make sure that no entry can overpower another entry. That way everyone knows – without asking- how the grade is calculate. Just add up all the points and divide by 1000. Simple for admin, parents and students.

The downside to this is that the teachers won’t be too happy. Teachers like the freedom to evaluate and change their course on the fly as they needs arise. Also, what if they spend too much time on a lesson and can’t get all 1,000 points in? These are legitimate concerns but it does give a solid structure that gives the teachers.

Another argument against this is that there are some classes where it may be difficult to work 1,000 points such as drama, music or art classes were performance and long term projects are the norm.

Another possibility is to give some freedom but with a tiny catch. Allow teachers to use a point only system but allow them to come up with what the final number of points will be. However, teachers need to plan and submit all their plans for graded assignments/assessments. It should also be revealed to students/parents as well. Transparency is key here.

Another more radical approach is dumping grades all together but that’s a post for another time. For now, however, if you’re using weighted categories – try dumping them to a more transparent and fairer point only system.

What do you think? Leave those comments below.

Posted in Opinion, Patrick Cauley | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Options Lead to Issues

“Walk on road, hmm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later… get squish just like grape.”~ The Karate Kid, 1984

squish

I am a strong proponent of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for students and personal ownership of the tools needed for professionals to get their jobs done.

However, in any successful organisation policies, procedure, norms, and culture eventually become established. Within the culture, standards around technology are formed, and hopefully those leading technology have taken the time to write these standards down for others to learn.

This structure does impeded on some freedom. It does say ‘Yes’ to somethings and ‘No’ to other things. Maybe it is evolution, and maybe it is a mistake, but it is how must organisations define themselves.

Lately I have had some conversations with technology leaders who are facing challenges with people reverting to practices that have been removed through policy. It is frustrating and time-consuming to re-hash issues that were settled in the past. The fact is, technology leadership often enables this type of behaviour by proving or allowing too many options.

Here are a few examples to outline some common scenarios where allowing people choice can cripple an implementation.

First off, cloud storage. For the most part, I love using cloud based systems. I am not going to explain why, but I am pretty good at selling people on the benefits. It is easy to sell people on things that I personally use and see the same benefits in. However, it is common for people to try and delay migrating to cloud storage in favor of using their old network shares.

Most of these delays  are related to departments not wanting to manage all the garbage files and illegal files they are using. Garbage is not referring to quality, but to age and file duplication. Within most organizations their are quotas and rules set for file storage. However, most organizations make exceptions to these rules over time. A few departments get so bloated with content, that they cannot move everything to the cloud easily. Nor can the technology department help them, because the time to migrate is days not hours.

Allowing departments more time is a common reaction to the problem. This, unfortunately, is bad for everyone else (usually the majority of users). The people who were initially compliant will continue to access their old network shares. The access was not removed because of the delay caused by a few departments. This flexibility in the plan allowed the community to revert to an old plan and model. The option enabled more bad practice.

I would approach this problem by giving the angry few 24 hours to move all their files to their personal laptops, and then remove their network shares. Why? Because they caused this issue, and they need to decide how much of their data is really going to be worth moving to the cloud. They need to audit the illegal content and find a way to share it so that the technology department is not using official organizational resources to manage illegal data.

Another issue that often surfaces in technology is when a school switches to a new database system, but old sets of data are scattered around in offices. Although the new database is up-to-date and functional, a few offices will always be sitting on years of old spreadsheets. These are not shared or even fully accounted for, they are, however, a threat to maintaining data integrity.

Some people will email data from old spreadsheets instead of generating new spreadsheets from the updated database. Often the solution is to set a data usage policy and hope that people comply. Setting policies and hoping people comply is diplomatic, but it does not keep them from reverting to their old habits and beliefs they may hold in the old system.

I think a better solution would be to create a 14 day period where all work has to be done on new hardware with the new software, and no access to old user profiles and documents. This will not only prevent the bad data from flowing, it will also expedite the training. Nothing is being deleted. Access is merely being regulated.

Working in technology leadership,  I spend most of my time saying ‘No’ or ‘Yes, but not that way.’.

I rarely find myself approving good ideas without providing some structure. I think it is very easy to slip into a comfort zone of trusting people to voluntarily transition out of their comfort zone.

The truth is leadership often involves not being popular. It involves thinking about the whole organization, the stakeholders, and the people depending on longterm success.

Setting a plan in motion and choosing a direction is always a risk. However, once a choice is made it needs to be followed. If the choice is wrong, the momentum will stop and the damage will be assessed. A new direction and choice will be set, and the process will begin again.  A plan can die right out of the gate is it is not allowed to move and evolve down its planned path. A bump along the way should not create forks and decision trees.

Choose and move, and find a path. Stay in place, and wait to be stepped-on. Those are really the only two choices.

Tony DePrato

http://www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Chuck Norris, Instructional Technology, Opinion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Replying to the Replies of “Don’t Ban Laptops in the Classroom”

Don’t Ban Laptops in the Classroom, is an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education. I read it. It was pretty good. However, the comments were so outstanding, I had to write a my own comment, and that comment was so long- it became a post.

The bad part about this IT BABBLE post is that you need to:

  1. Read the article. It is short and sweet, but read it first.
  2. Scan the comments and read a few. You will find a TREND among them.
  3. Finally, read my comments, located below.

To entice you here are a few gems written by university professor types:

I don’t ban them because students distract themselves—I ban them because students who use them to distract themselves distract others who already have the self-discipline not to distract themselves.

Being in class is not the same as being at home. Why would you expect your professor or your boss or your colleagues to enable you to maintain the exact same cocoon that you enjoy at home? You don’t dress the same, you don’t speak the same, you don’t pay attention to the same things in these different settings. Should a life guard be allowed to zone out while he/she struggles with building will power? No? Well, that’s an example of a setting with clear expectations for your attention as a pre-requisite to inclusion. Every social setting outside your dorm room has them. Grow up.

Good notes include connector arrows, spatial arrangements, diagrams, and even doodles to help retain semi-consciousness and semi-focus while waiting for significant inputs. Those who just type words are at a severe disadvantage

——————————————————————————————–
My Comment to the Commenters

This “study” – http://www.cbc.ca/news/technol…

Does not prove nor indicate anything. I hope no one reading this sees the experiment as valid, or even reasonable. The study has an invalid design, and the sample is equal to a cola taste test at a local WalMart.

I have been working in international schools where kids are doing IBO courses. Every IBO school producing students with high scores and top university placement, is a laptop school. (At least the 75 or so schools I have been in contact with.)

In fact, before I was working in administration, I was teaching 150 students a year. My students would not be able to parse the amount of information required by the IBO without a laptop, or regular computer access.

Students still takes notes, but they take them anyway they want. In fact, students between 16-18 seem to know what methods of note taking work well for them, and as a teacher/administrator, I monitor their note taking and make suggestions until a method that suits them is found.

I have had students who did everything by drawing. Others used programs that were designed to focus note taking by locking all the windows and applications away until a password was entered.

Many use services like Google Docs and do comparative note taking and group note taking with friends.

Every subject the students have to complete requires an immense amount of file and data management.

Math, Science, Art, Computer Science, and Music all have multiple software packages required to complete the curriculum.

Over an 8 year period, I have had many students come to visit or write from university. Universities in Canada, the USA, the UK, Asia, Australia, etc. Most would say they found the transition into university life, and the pace required, on par with their senior year in high school.

The main issue I have with the comments in this post, is that I have helped plan and prepare educational technology programs for the last 8 years. I have designed programs that have required technology for 1000s of students. These students are now headed to university, and apparently, they need to learn to slow down and close their laptops.

Some curriculum topics do not require technology. However, many do, and if you are requiring students to write, I can only assume they are sometimes submitting work electronically. If they are using software to make final content, then they should have the ability to use software to make drafts and notes.

In this article, “Laptop use lowers student grades, experiment shows”, the description under the photo reads, “Laptops are now commonplace in classrooms, and its not unusual for students to be on social networks, playing games or watching movies during class. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)” .

I hope everyone realizes that as a school, it is not impossible to manage security and control things like social networks, movies, and games. Most school’s, including universities, simply work on a very old IT management model that does not allow the network to have flexible ways to manage the needs of various groups of people.

Usually, a school has most of the hardware and software it needs to implement what is required to stop entertainment and social networks. However, it only works if you plan and think like a school, and avoid planning and thinking like a company.

I challenge anyone who really believes that the core problem is technology to take real steps to prove it. I firmly believe the problem is in the curriculum, the lesson delivery, and the lack of adjusting to students as they change.

If proof is required, then this is what must be done. Forget about laptops. Turn off the Wifi. Turn off the internet access for students during lecture times and normal study times. Prove that success is possible with notes, text books, library resources, and all the things that were used to design the curriculum delivery. This includes no internet for teachers as well. Prove that the organisation can teach and learn with the knowledge and skills they possess, and the static resources they own.

As for myself, I know I can do it. Living in working in places that lack infrastructure force one to learn to construct a curriculum to meet the demands and limitations created by the situation.

If you take the challenge do it long enough for the students to take a 3rd party assessment of some type, and compare it to a school or group who has not taken the challenge. If you believe prove it. I think if technology is damaging students, the argument should be settled.

 Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Instructional Technology, Tech Integration | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How a ‘C-’ Can Be a Good Thing

It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see.~ Moneyball 

I often take ideas and assign a numerical scale to them, in order to compare them to other things. I always tell people that they can “make their own math”. Most people just stare at me blankly, and others just laugh like I am joking.

Believe me, all that math you may have partially studied in school is useful. Somewhere along the line someone forgot to add a few key points to the math textbooks. For example emphasising  that if a bunch of people sitting in a room can decide if a movie is a G, PG, PG-13, etc., then any group of people sitting in any room can do the same thing.

Even though they do not realize it, educators do this all the time when they make decisions about grading, grading scales, and standards. Recently I have been looking at grading scales for a Shanghai Primary School, a Shanghai Middle School, a year 9-10 IGCSE program, and a year 11-12 IB program. In my current position I am involved in implementing these scales among a common population of students.

These students will start on one scale and finish on another. They will go from letters, to numbers, to different letters, and back to numbers.

It is perplexing when considering the transcript and the key needed to decode the transcript.

I think the way schools report progress is a bit insane. It seems logical to give a student a number or letter and say, “This = Good and That = Bad” . However, over the course of time, the standards connected to these metrics change. So the logic does not hold up.

Trying to report the standards seems logical, but the number of standards per student, per subject, and per grade overtime would be overwhelming for most people to read and interpret.

So how should schools get things down to one number, using the information the way parents and students need to read it?

I suggest the answer is to stop reporting numbers and letters, and to start reporting trend lines. 

trending

Trend lines not only show a student’s performance  overtime, they clearly show if the student is on a steady, moderate, or rapid incline or decline. A trend line can group categories of things into single points, and those points can be reviewed quickly. Any points of concern can be expanded for conversation.

The most interesting thing is that a student who previously had an ‘F’ in science, but now has a ‘C-’, will appear to be improving (Which is good, because they are improving). A grade of 55 that is now a 71 shows a 30% improvement. If this was a mutual fund, you would be smiling.

Currently, what do parents and students see in this situation? They see an ‘F’, and a ‘C-’.
That does not seem like much of an improvement when the grade is explained as below average and described as needing significant improvement.  An 81 changing to a 91 looks great, but that is just a 10% improvement.

The truth is, the trend line would show not only improvement but some degree of effort. Effort that is not calculated by someone’s opinion, but through the interpretation of data.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

 

 

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Opportunity vs Experience

I was in a meeting. I dislike most meetings. Not because I dislike people or discourse, but because most meetings seem unfocused and more for ritual than utility.

In this particular meeting, we were presented with some self-guided learning options for students who need to be challenged more. That means they are working below their level.

Looking at the courses, I noticed that there was no curriculum. Meaning, there were courses only, and nothing formally connected.

So I thought, “I am a student. I want to d0 more science. I will take a single course. I pass the course. What do I get? Who knows about it? Do I have to take the course at my own school a year from now? Do I need extra work for only the experience of doing it?”

In some cases, such as being part of volunteer group, building something with a team, or collaborating on a single project, experience is all the reward someone needs. The reward of experience is truly great when connected to something unique and singular, something that is also an experience.

An opportunity is comprised of experiences, but experiences do not always lead to new opportunities.

As I was pondering the options, I remembered the logic I apply to all educational choices, and asked the guiding question that continually corrects me when I stray from the path: Am I creating a real opportunity for a student or am I just filling a gap in time?

That question lead me to see the list of options differently. I realised if I applied basic backward design to the list I could easily create a curriculum track that would connect to a new opportunity coming in the near future.

I proposed that we inform the students who qualified for the program, that we would have a summer program focused on environmental science and data logging. This means sampling the environment and doing research related to water, soil, air, and the local plant life. The program would also teach the students how to use new equipment, sensors, technology, etc., and to apply the scientific method. For those students looking for a pay-off in the end, it would give them the skills needed for IB Science courses 1-3 years in advance of other students. Making lab time less, and in class work-time more productive.

Win!

No actually. Fail. Not an insulting “Fail!” or “You’ve been Pwn’d!”, but the idea was rejected. It was rejected in favor of choosing only one of the courses and trying to convince at least 12 students to join. The course would start and end with the experience only. If a student happened to some how move the USA, they might be able to claim a high school credit for it, but the chances of any of these students moving to the USA are very low.

The main reason for this decision, was it seemed like an easier way to begin and an easier goal to achieve.

I felt a bit upset and troubled. At that moment I had basically failed as a student advocate.

If we are encouraging students to go beyond the classroom, they should have a reason. There should be more value in the process than just the grasping a new concept before their classmates.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

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The problem with LMS’s

I’m not going to lie to you – I really like Edmodo. Hell I’ve made five versions of an Edmodo guide that has been viewed over 50,000 times and the latest version is more than fifty pages. You don’t do something like that unless you like something, are paid to do or old told to do it by a superior. I’m lucky, I fall into the first category. I know that Edmodo can help organize a class, improve communication between the teacher and her/his students and make life generally easier for the teacher. I know Edmodo does this and more and I know that other learning management systems (LMS) do too.

However, I read an article in Hack Education called Beyond the LMS by Audrey Watters. The article talks about a great deal of issues but one that stood out was why Audrey doesn’t think LMS are a good idea. Her example was Blackboard but this point here really stuck with me.

After all, at the end of each class, students would lose access to the materials — could lose, I suppose. there are some administrative controls to extend it. Anything they’d written in the forums, for example, any interactions they’d had through the messaging system: gone.

You see, she is right. After a class is over in Edmodo, I have three options:

  1. Delete the class forever – not a good idea.
  2. Keep the class open – Not the best idea either. Who knows what it could turn into.
  3. Archive the class – No one can post, delete or make any changes. The info is available but you have to scroll or search through it

I archived all my classes, but if you’ve ever used Edmodo and archived a class and then tried to find something – good luck. The search isn’t that great which means you need to scroll through everything, and it shows so much info at a time. I’ve had to do this and it is a time consuming pain in the ass. My students wouldn’t go through all that.

Sure, the info is there but not easily accessible which means no one is going to sift through that to find what they’re looking for unless it is a real emergency and even then maybe.

One thing I believe is that technology can bring unparalleled transparency to a school. It can let all teachers of a subject/grade level to consolidate all their materials in one place, collaborate on cornerstone assessments and thus make everything better horizontally aligned which is a problem I’ve seen at every school I worked at.

It can also allow teachers in different grades to see what is being taught above and below them and thus bring more vertical alignment within a school. Also a problem I’ve seen at every school I’ve worked in, but Edmodo and other systems aren’t great at that. Their focus is far smaller. Improve organization of a class, improve communication within the class and to help bring more transparency to the students in the class. I love that but now that I think about what Audrey wrote, I think of all the resources they lose out on after the year/semester is over.

This makes me think of good old Omar. Omar, uses WordPress blogs for his classes. At first I thought he was making more work for himself. He had to set up the blog, he had to manually add each student to the blog, he had to make sure they could access the blog through their account. He had to make sure that the categories and tags were all set up and more and more, but at the end of the day (or school year) that info is still there. It’s still available for his students. It’s a record of what they’ve accomplished, what they still need to improve upon and more. They can take that with them (or at least access it in the future).

I like that idea more. I like the idea of students being able to take their work with them from class, to class and year to year. I love Edmodo and will most likely use it again in the future, but I’ll also do something else. Maybe a blog or a website to help correspond with what the LMS is doing. I want to create something with my students that they can take with them. I don’t want my class to be a stand alone class – I want it to be transparent and to have longevity beyong the school year.

In the end, if every year is a blank slate what was the point of all the previous years?

Patrick Cauley
www.thetechjonsey.com

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Back to school with Edmodo

edmodo_image

Ah-the beginning of another fine school year. The printers are warm and busy, teachers are shaking hands and hugging each other catching up from the summer holiday and bulletin boards are being covered getting ready for that all important first day of school. Another thing that teachers are getting ready is their Edmodo groups.

If you haven’t heard yet, Edmodo is a learning management system – in fact I dare say it is the most popular one in the world! It’s free to use, powerful and doesn’t take too much time to set up.

Still unsure, then check out my Edmodo guide. You can find it on Scribd here or check it out below.

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