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Posts tagged ‘change’

It’s not just jeans. It’s how we teach.

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to say goodbye.

It’s never easy. We try to be brave but it’s hard. Knowing we’ll never be together again can be rough.

Guys. You know what I’m talking about. The day you have to throw away the t-shirt you won in that 1992 softball championship. Maybe it’s that awesome hoodie you got back when you and your buddies used to go skiing every year. Or it’s your favorite pair of jeans.

That’s me today. I’ve had these jeans for maybe ten years. Comfortable. Broken in. They have been the go to pair of pants for a decade. But at this point, even I have to admit perhaps they’re just a little too broken in.

old jeans

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Moneyball and quality history education

I’m thinking out loud this afternoon. So . . . good luck.

I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Lewis. Liar’s Poker, Trail Fever, The Blind Side . . . and one of my favorites, Moneyball.

I first read Moneyball just a year or so after it came out in 2003. It not only helped me better understand baseball but it also helped me see how change can be a good thing.

And so I had to go see the movie this last weekend. Of course, there were liberties taken with the story and characters but it did do a pretty good job of conveying the major theme of the book:

Collective and institutionalized wisdom is often wrong, causing people to make decisions based on flawed data.

The real question?

What does success look like and how can we measure it?

For those people unfamiliar with the specifics, Lewis writes about a guy named Billy Beane who was the general manager of the Oakland A’s. The problem that Beane had to solve was how to win baseball games with an overall team salary of about $41,000,000. Which sounds like a lot except when compared with just about every other team in the major leagues.

The New York Yankees, for example, had a team salary of around $125,000,000. So if the A’s and the Yankees both wanted the same quality player, the Yankees could always outbid the A’s and build a team of studs. The A’s would get stuck with the leftovers.

The solution? Sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics is a different way of finding good baseball players than what was being used at the time. Beane threw out the traditional methods of evaluating baseball players – the methods all other teams were using – and began finding players that no one else wanted and could afford but were still able to win games.

Simple stated – Beane figured out a way of defining success that was exactly opposite of what baseball purists were telling him. For example, he threw out the concept of high batting averages and base stealing. And instead he focused on walks and on-base percentage.

The result was that the Oakland A’s won more games over the last decade or so than any other team.

Yeah . . . so? Major league baseball is very traditional and hates change.

K-12 education is very traditional and hates change. We’re great at measuring stuff. We’re great at teaching the same thing, the same way it’s always been taught. Why? Just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

But I’m going out on a limb here. In the new world of 21st century, we need to start asking some of the same questions that Billy Beane was asking:

What does success look like and how can we measure it in a 2011 history classroom?

I’m in a conversation today with a group of teachers about how to do social studies standards and assessments differently so that kids learn what we want them to learn. And I’m thinking to myself:

What would Moneyball look like applied to social studies and history instruction?

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We’re #11! We’re #11!

A recent issue of Newsweek focused on answering the following question:

If you were born today, which country would provide you the very best opportunity to live a healthy, safe, reasonably prosperous and upwardly mobile life?

Newsweek editors and writers chose to focus on five areas – education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness and political environment – and then applied data from each of those areas across 100 countries.

The overall results?

The US finished 11th behind such countries as Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Australia (sigh) but ended up way ahead of Uganda, Yeman and Cameroon (yea!). Newsweek did break stuff out a bit – they created smaller lists comparing similar sized countries by category. We did better on some of those lists.

The article noted some interesting trends. Some obvious, some not. Most obvious? Being small and rich (Switzerland) is much better than large and poor (South Africa).

Perhaps not so obvious was their observation that your educational system can make a huge difference in where you ended up on the list. And while this is a very wide-angle view of 100 countries, the authors of the article were also able to notice a few educational trends in those countries at the top of the list.

One of the first things that they noted was that family circumstances impact success more than any other factor. By age three, the authors suggest, children with professional parents are a full year ahead of their peers. Kids know twice as many words and score 40 points higher on IQ tests.

By age 10?

The gap is now three years.

And if nothing changes, many of those already behind will not master basic skills. As in . . . never.

So what successful international educational trends can we steal?

Get kids into school early

“High-quality preschooling does more for a child’s chances in school and life than any other educational intervention.” Pre-schooled kids earn more, had better jobs, are less likely to be in prison and more likely to remain in stable, long-term relationships.

And don’t forget the parents in that equation. Kids aren’t the only people who need an education at that point. We also need to train parents how to parent.

Keep kids in school longer

Current US educational policy is currently focused on creating longer school days and a longer school year. But the economy is making this difficult – schools are cutting back on student contact time to save money.

But I gotta tell ya. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Unless the instruction is of high-quality, more time spent in school doesn’t seem to make much sense. Longer days with poor teachers, poor resources and out-dated methods will do more harm than good.

Pour lots of effort into improving teacher quality

“Studies have shown that kids with the most effective teachers learn three times as much as those with the least effective.”

Now this I can get behind. Great teachers make a huge difference. I would gladly send me kid to school longer if I knew they would spend that time with quality people. We need to spend more time and effort recruiting teachers, invest in more and better staff development, provide constant feedback and provide bonuses for top performers.

Of course, that’s the real challenge, isn’t it? How do you document the top performers? Of course, we all know who’s good and who’s not. It was the same when we were in school or sports . . . we all knew who was number one. It’s the documenting that we need to work on. And I don’t know what that looks like. But we, the system, needs to spend time fixing that.

Recognize the value of individualized instruction

This is one of the benefits of programs like MTSS or RTI. We are taking a much clearer look at individual kids and what their needs are.

——————

And while these ideas all make sense, they are systemic and institutional. What can I as an individual do?

Not much I can do in my classroom about the preschool stuff. But I can

  • Provide high-quality homework that will extend learning outside of class. This is not an easy thing but what we ask kids to do should involve more problem solving activities, more video games and group activities that incorporate online collaborative tools like Google Docs, Edmodo, Skype and Delicious.
  • Become a better teacher. Get involved in creating and participating in a Personal Learning Network. Join Ning networks like Classroom 2.0, get on Plurk or Twitter, join a book study, subscribe to more blogs, travel more, read more books in your content area.
  • Purposefully plan to differentiate your instruction. Don’t hope that kids learn. Figure out what they need and deliver your stuff in ways that guarantee that they learn. Plan for individualized learning.

Martin Luther King once said

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

Be the minority.

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“We all need Yodas” – Marco Torres

The TEEN network invited Marco Torres to speak via Skype during its Mashup on Monday. His presentations are pretty similar to other educational gurus (i.e. schools need to change, kids are different, technology for good not evil, etc) but he’s always fun to listen to . . . if for nothing else than his great off-the-cuff comments.

So let ‘em begin.

He had teachers describe their curriculum and then asked:

If I can Google everything you just said, what value are you adding to the learning that takes place in your classroom?

He continued on that theme:

Never ask a question a kid can look up – simply knowing the answer is just not enough anymore.

Marco discussed the idea shared by Malcom Gladwell in Outliers that an expert is anyone who has 10,000 hours of practice and played a video during which he asked a grade school kid:

When did you become an expert?

Last week on Friday.

Marco used that clip to intro the idea of Personal Learning Networks:

We all need experts like that kid . . . we all need Yodas in our networks.

He finished the day by showing the Youtube video of FunTwo playing Pachebel’s Canon in D and discussing how many kids learned how to play guitar from that example.

Don’t let school get in the way of learning.

The good news? Great stuff that generated some great conversation in the room.

The bad news? Heard some guy behind me ask:

Does anyone know what the hell he’s talking about?

Sigh.

Oh, well. Baby steps.

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Shame on us

I’m spending the morning listening to some very smart people from around the state of Kansas discuss current educational problems and possible solutions to those problems.

The main focus has been the fact that school districts are losing teachers due to economic issues. One of the results of that is that HS kids have fewer choices – fewer AP classes, fewer language classes and fewer science / math classes.

The solution?

Not sure yet. But part of it will be finding ways to share great teachers across school districts.

You have a teacher of the year in math and I’ve got kids who need great math instruction. How do we all share that? I sure would like the best for my kids.

Part of the solution will also be using something like the Kansas Careers web site that’s designed for Kansas higher ed institutions to share their content with K-12 districts. But I think it goes beyond that. The conversation is obviously in process but there is a lot of discussion about how K-12 districts need to find more ways to work together.

I like what one school superintendent said:

Perhaps some of the bad news is that the economy will recover. We need to leverage this economic crisis to get some things done that would not have happened two years ago. What are some things that BOEs and teacher unions and admin people will do now that are good for kids that we wouldn’t have done before?

Another interesting angle is finding ways to motivate K-12 teachers to be part of the solution:

How do we involve teachers in this conversation? There needs to be a way for these great teachers to get a cut of the pie as an incentive.

But I really liked what one superintendent said early on in the discussion. And while it’s not really a solution, it sure ought to be part of the motivation.

The bottom line for me is that every kid in the state needs access to a quality education. The courts have told us that where someone lives and the economic situation of their parents should not impact the quality of their education. And we’re not doing that.

Someone should be saying, shame on us.

And he’s right. If we fail to find ways to help all kids, shame on us indeed.

Change is hard

Change is hard.

And especially in education, being an early adopter can also be a scary thing. But eventually, if the idea is a good one, everyone is doing it.

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