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Posts tagged ‘education’

Malala, the Girl Effect, and your classroom

I raised my voice – not to shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.

A year ago, 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck on her school bus. The gunman sent by the Taliban, the Muslim clerical group that adheres to a strict version of Islamic law, has not been arrested. Six others identified as being involved in the attack were arrested but released for lack of evidence.

The Taliban has its roots in the remote tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan, where Malala’s family is from. And where it can, it has imposed rules forbidding girls from going to school, listening to music, or taking most jobs.

Growing up in Pakistan, Malala daily witnessed the oppression of women and girls forbidden from getting an education. She understood the risk in speaking out about this injustice and did it anyway. She nearly died as a result.

For Malala, going to school wasn’t a requirement that had to be endured. She understands the importance of an education  and the difference it can make in the lives of girls and women. The Taliban understand it as well.

Malala says Read more

Zhao, education and globlization

I had the chance to listen to rising star of educational reform Dr. Yong Zhao last week and am still working to wrap my head around what he had to say.

So far, here’s what I got:

  • Innovation creates entrepreneurs
  • Entrepreneurs create jobs
  • Jobs equal higher quality of life
  • NCLB and other forms of testing kill innovation
  • Current US education system is actually pretty good, especially when compared with other countries
  • Other countries such as China and South Korea are working hard to create an educational system modeled after the US
  • The US is working hard to create an educational system that looks like China’s

Mmm . . . where to start?

Many in the US use international tests like the TIMMS to show how far the United States is behind educationally. But Zhao cited statistics showing that countries that scored low on those sorts of international tests have the highest levels of creativity, quality of life, democracy, wealth, economic growth over time. The opposite is true of the countries who scored highest on those types of tests.

Zhao noted that in his State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned that the US has the strongest economy, the most productive workers, the most patents, etc. Zhao asks “If what Obama and others say about our educational system is true, how can our economy be so good?”

He suggested very strongly that we’re worried about fixing things that don’t matter.

Zhao highlighted what the federal DOE and others are attempting to do to “fix” the current system – things like Race to the Top and Common Core standards. Boiled down, these efforts are designed to:

  • centralize the system
  • standardize the system
  • make the people in the system more accountable

Simply stated, all of these attempts to “fix” our system are designed to improve our chances to compete with others like China and India. And Zhao says that’s stupid.

He pointed out that Asian countries started with this sort of system and discovered that it doesn’t work. Zhao cited all sorts of documents that demonstrate that China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore are working to de-centralize and de-standardize – with the goal of increasing creativity and innovation.

Chinese concerns have included:

  • Overemphasis on simple knowledge transmission
  • Too many required and uniform courses
  • Excessive coursework burden on students

In response, China has actually reduced the number of required hours for math and other core classes while increasing the number of hours for art, PE and other elective courses.

South Korea is moving along the same path:

All this energy has been spent on raising test scores, not nurturing creativity of any other aspect of human nature – it’s our biggest challenge.

Lee Ju Ho
Minister of Education, Science, and Technology
Chronicle of Higher Education
January 23, 2011

Among other things, Singapore is working to focus more on “the explicit teaching of critical and creative thinking skills” and a greater emphasis “on processes instead of on outcomes when appraising schools.” Japan has a three-pronged approach focusing on “enhancing emotional education,” creating a diverse, flexible educational system that “encourages individuality and cultivates creativity” and “decentralizing educational administration while enhancing local autonomy.”

Exactly the opposite of the kinds of things that the US is trying to do.

Why is this a big deal?

Because the research on creativity and innovation is pretty clear.

Zhao cited a recent book titled The Rise of the Creative Class that describes why some areas become economically powerful and other places do not. Zhao and the book’s author, Richard Florida, agree that for a place to become economically powerful (or truly compete with China), that place needs to focus on three things:

  • Appropriate use of technology
  • Diverse talents
  • Tolerance of ideas, attitudes and lifestyles

His non-example? Michigan since the 1980s.

Zhao did talk briefly about what he sees as the solution;

  • Teach global competencies including what he calls culture intelligence (knowledge of economics, problems, languages and cultures)
  • Cultivate digital competencies
  • Personalized learning
  • Professional autonomy, support and development for teachers

I agree with a lot of what he has to say. I’m especially intrigued by what he had to say about how a place becomes economically powerful. There’s some interesting tie-ins to Jared Diamond’s ideas. I also like his comparisons between the current US system and those in Asia.

While I’ve read some of his stuff before, this was really the first time I had the chance to hear Zhao articulate his ideas. And I’m still working what he said into my own world view. But I’m pretty sure I’ll find a place to put it.


Update 2/28

Ken Robinson gave a talk last fall that is related to this topic. Feel free to browse through it.

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Tip of the Week – Interactive Lectures III

Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared a bit about Jason Stacy’s article in Social Education titled The Guide on the Stage: In Defense of Good Lecturing in the History Classroom.

Jason suggests that when done well, lecturing is a tool that engages students, encourages constructivist learning and supports historical thinking. Part one focused on the Problem-Centered lecture and part two talked about the Comparative lecture.

This week?

The Thesis-Driven Lecture.

Jason suggests that the Thesis-Driven lecture

demands interaction from students even when they are quietly taking notes.

This happens because you inform your students of your thesis and objectives before the lecture begins and tell them that you intend to prove your thesis to their satisfaction. The Thesis-Driven lecture works best when your thesis is something that students think is wrong or “absurd.”

To teach the period prior to the American Revolution, Jason uses the thesis: “The American reaction against British taxation was illegal, unjustified and fundamentally unnecessary.” This method usually works best with material known to students or in opposition to their textbook.

But it allows, even encourages, students to challenge your thinking during the lecture. And so instead of passively copying notes, students begin constructing counter-arguments and alternative perspectives to the one you’ve presented.

Another example might be the teacher who asks middle school students to look at a map of ancient Egypt and suggest that the best place for human settlement in not along the Nile River. Or a high school teacher suggesting that Lincoln was wrong to resupply Fort Sumter.

Some may use Jason’s article as an excuse to return to a very traditional, very direct and very ineffective lecture style.  What he is suggesting is that instruction that includes problem-centered, comparative and thesis-based lectures allows you to present factual information while also demanding that students actively engage with the material.

So a quick overview of Interactive Lectures:

  • Requires that you are very familiar with the material
  • Be sure to use material that will raise questions, spark debate and challenge student assumptions
  • Encourage high level thinking and conversation through open-ended questions
  • Use the Chunk & Chew method when presenting new information (10-20 minutes of instruction and two to four minutes of small group discussion)
  • Understand that an interactive lecture is not a class discussion – it is “explicitly” didactic with a clear end in mind

As Jason says:

The problem . . . is not lecturing but bad lecturing.

Have fun!

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One worksheet at a time

My 8th grade daughter was heading out the door last week on her way to school. And she was obviously not that excited about it.

But bless her heart, she attempted a bit of humor to lighten the mood:

I’m off to change the world, one worksheet at a time.

I laughed but also felt a twinge. She’s already figured it out:

Just survive four more years. I might learn something but it’s more likely that most of what I’ll do will be busy work.

The solution? Make t-shirts.

My daughter claims any and all intellectual property rights.

Other solutions? Find things for her to do outside of school, encourage her online writing and her art work and calmly push for change in her school.

K-12 solutions? More hands-on instruction, more problem-based learning, more primary sources, more 21st century skills, more authentic assessment. And no, they’re not easy.

But you know what? My daughter’s worth it.

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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.