Asking the wrong questions of technology…


1956 - Forbidden Planet
There has been a huge roll-out of technology with the advent of SBAC testing in California (and elsewhere in the country with CCSS testing in all forms). But is this really making education better? Is it making our kids better? Or is it like using Robbie shown above, good for little beyond holding the pretty lady’s train, and not the best use of public monies?

I know, I’m an ed tech enthusiast, but if this is the best we (and by we, I include me in that) can come up with…color me a Luddite and hand me some paper and pencils. I’m going to talk about what I think are stupid choices. Some of them are mine (which can be adjusted and improved on rather easily), and some are about how entire public education community and show little sign of improvement any time in the future.

In my last weekly reflection, I discussed how my kids did better writing with pencil and paper as compared to their online writing. Over the weeks, I would say their online writing is more generally better, but for my most fluent writers, they aren’t always quite as prolific and don’t always have as strong a voice in their online writing.

Some of the studies of reading and writing (in the form of note-taking) show paper and pencil to be more effective than computers and screens for the same task:

To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens – Scientific American

That second link has some caveats in it, and a really good question at the end:

Although many old and recent studies conclude that people understand what they read on paper more thoroughly than what they read on screens, the differences are often small…

Perhaps, then, any discrepancies in reading comprehension between paper and screens will shrink as people’s attitudes continue to change…

But why, one could ask, are we working so hard to make reading with new technologies like tablets and e-readers so similar to the experience of reading on the very ancient technology that is paper?

So I can see the mistake I’ve been making, I’m essentially transferring the writing that I used to have them do on paper, to a Wiki. Studies show improvements in students writing online happen with interaction, especially peer interaction, and multiple interactions. Now, I’ve only started having them write online this trimester, and I had a general plan to start with getting down the mechanics of writing there first, then start adding interactive writing. Now is that time, and I’ll share how it goes.

Now to a more general observation. These so-called new test are falling into just this this trap, and it risks making buying all these fancy new computers look like a huge waste. Look at the tasks that students are being asked to do on the sample test, they’ve essentially taken the same tasks that were on paper pencil tests to computer. All that’s changed is that tasks that are more cumbersome become a little less so on the computer. Here is a brief lists of the tasks (not comprehensive, but it covers most of what’s on the test):

  • Standard multiple choice questions (yawn!)
  • Questions with “checkbox” option, allowing multiple correct responses (really?)
  • Short response writing
    This is new for California, but New York has done this for years. It marginally improves the authenticity of the assessment, It’s like going from imitation non-dairy cheez-wiz , to the brand-name version. It’s still cheez-wiz. If it gets graded by “computers” (algorithms) I’ll be even less impressed.
  • Select the word/sentence/etc. that shows “something”
    This is the big new thing, but really, every since I first saw this, I’ve been unimpressed. It’s not that much more authentic, or demanding, than giving students a list of multiple choice items with words, or underlining words/sentences with numbers and having them pick the significant one(s). This is the sort of thing guaranteed to impress adults, but is a huge yawn for students.

Think I’m being harsh? I generally ask students after these annual tests to comment generally on them. Was it harder, or easier, etc. One student summed it up well, “They weren’t that different than the old tests, we just used computers.”

The two big things that could change in future years’ testing are scoring by algorithm/machine, and the introduction of “computer adaptive” algorithms, adjusting the test so that it provides “just right” questions to students. Both those ideas are fraught with problems that have been covered earlier here, and here. Consider this too, if they don’t machine score the writing, then the “decisions” about level of difficulty made for each student will be based only on non-written answers.

Image Credit: 1956 – Forbidden Planet by James Vaughan, on Flickr

We need to be willing to commit ritualized suicide…


Now that I have your attention, I wanted to share something that I found more disturbing than the Promethean guys in orange spandex bodysuits. It was a quote that I heard not once, but on twiceat the ISTE conference:

“We need to be willing to drink the koolaid” –presenter appearing on a video feed at ISTE

You might have used this quote yourself in trying to extol others to join the bandwagon of ed tech (or some other innovation). There is a school in my area that that has used this phrase to exhort teachers to “get with the program” on the school reform being implemented. People seemed to have completely forgotten the original context of the phrase and have decided that drinking koolaid is a good thing.

I find this puzzling, but unsurprising in a culture that practices unintentional irony on a periodic basis, but it’s disturbing nonetheless as my husband grew up with folks  who were members of the Peoples Temple, and participated (willingly or not) in the ritualized suicide that coined this phrase. I like koolaid and have used it to color home-made playdough (it gives it a great scent), and if no other choices are available at a party, I will drink it. But please do not ask me, or others in my presence, to take a metaphorical drink of koolaid, as I’m likely to give a negative response.

Some other phrases suitable for this use:
You need to be willing to dive in
You need to get outside your comfort zone
You need to commit yourself…
…heart and soul
…with blood, sweat, and tears
You need to take the risk

Week 26: Over the hump…


Number - 26

This has been a hard “Spring” in some ways, but easier in others. One part of the “hard” has been the fact that I’m in one of the few local districts that still does a Spring Break aligned with Easter, and this year, that wasn’t until last week. Both students and adults were more than ready for a “time out” by the time that last week rolled around it was not pretty. Rather than focusing on that, I’m going to share this audio recording of class discussion on the Constitution I made on Friday which went pretty well. The kids have a less than perfect understanding of text, because we only had about 2 days with the selection they were reading on the subject (normally they’d have three or four).  I will just point to the fact that this discussion meets few of the Common Core standards in ELA of informational text, but it shows the higher level of thinking and the type of analysis that I’d prefer they make.

I was discussing this with my husband. He was a bit precocious as youngster, and once did a bang-up job on a history essay by adding some background information gleaned from his own reading (he has always read history for pleasure, not just when required to). His teacher was livid that he had included outsider information, and didn’t stick to the text. Once again, I’m not concerned that Common Core is something new and scary, but has the potential to be the same old same old.

California is like the rest of the country…only sooner

Image Credit: Number – 26 by szczel, on Flickr”

Wonder what those Waldorf schools are going to do?


After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses
via New York Times


Rich kids. If they are up-to-date, just the two encyclopedias on the shelves in the foreground cost more than a set of 20 tablets or netbooks, plus wireless access points, would have cost. (New York Times photo by Jim Wilson)

From Ira David Socol’s Class War at The New York Times

Week 19: New Horizons


LE 19

I’m trying to get back in a routine after being out of the classroom due to union business. In addition, I have gotten a student teacher in my classroom, so I’m trying to introduce and incorporate her into our classroom routines.

I’ll start with the bad and the ugly. There is a point you hit around January or February when the kids can lose it. Maybe they realize they’re only half-way through the year (or there-abouts), maybe with fifth graders they’re hitting some emotional intersection they’re having a a hard time negotiating, maybe this winter the weather has been too nice, and maybe I’ve been out of the classroom too much? Whatever the reason my class did not start the week well. It wasn’t just my class, but the entire school. It was frankly, a little embarrassing to introduce the student teacher to my class the way it was on Monday, and even Tuesday. On the other hand, having a new teacher in the room is a great excuse to review the rules and procedures.

Enough of the griping….What was good about this week? Well they settled down largely by Thursday (unfortunately I was out at a conference on Friday — I was really sad to be leaving them). What worked? We’ve had the Macbook cart come in each week to do activities, so that is part of our routine. I felt like it was time for something new. One of my gripes with the class is that when I show videos on science, etc. some of them ask/answer questions in the middle of the screening. So, I gave them the Macbooks, and told them to go to a chat room I had set up, and put comments and questions there. MUCH better! quieter, on topic, not missing what the narrator is saying because someone is shouting out something. Was it perfect? No, some random comments, but for 10 year olds doing this the first time, pretty darn good. I’ll be looking for more depth of commentary as time goes by…

Here is video:

Here is part some of the chat:

what kind of animal was that a camel
-stanford27 at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web

pumas rock
-sean at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web

oh like a puma and mattata
-bob6 at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web
those are weird monkeys.
-A2 at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web
-abc13abc at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web
-call of duty guy18 at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web
my favorite animal
-austin at 17:17 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web
-Jonathan at 17:18 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web
that lion looks tight
-ray/g 4 at 17:18 PM, 02 Feb 2012 via web

Photo credit: LE 19 by Leo Reynolds, on Flickr

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