Education Evolutions #114

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Thanksgiving is now definitely upon us as we prepare for this shortened week. It looks like the weather is going to be plenty awful nearly nationwide, which will likely make all those holiday travelers a little extra thankful when and if they arrive at their destination.

This week’s selection of articles proved tougher than most. So much high-quality, interesting material has been coursing across my radar lately. However, this week kind of coalesced around a loose theme about the health of students and more generally schools. Simply put, schools are stronger when the foster community rather than competition. Quite honestly, we might all benefit from that in wider contexts than schools.

As much as I want to label this week’s “If you read only one article…” the last one, I recognize that a 33-minute read is a big ask of anyone. As much as I say it is worth it, which it is, I also recognize that more people are likely to read the first and second articles. So, I suppose the more likely “If you read only one article…” choice is the second piece. There seem to be a lot more students struggling for all kinds of reasons around the country than many might realize.

Have a great holiday of gratitude and giving.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Failure Found to Be an “Essential Prerequisite” for Success – Scientific American – David Noonan (4-minute read)

Just this week, I posed the question “Do you believe struggle is essential to happiness?” to my students as we dug into a text that certainly entertains the idea. This article suggests that struggle certainly is essential to successful, at least in some basic way. This analysis of a recently published study shares some of the fundamental findings that point to the role failure plays in eventual breakthroughs.

Looking at sample sizes in the hundreds of thousands across the areas of grant applications, start-up investment, and terrorist attacks, this study sought to understand the dynamics of failure. Noonan’s review of the study also captures a fantastic line, “‘Every winner begins as a loser,’ says Wang, associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, who conceived and led the study.” Of course, it is a little more complicated than all that but that is a winning quote for sure.

This study has some potentially remarkable implications for educators. If as the study suggests, failing at a faster rate increases chances of success, how might that impact teachers who are less willing to give students repeated chances on any kind of assessments. Moreover, it strengthens the case for rich and rapid formative feedback. Helping students understand how they are struggling, how they respond to those struggles, and where those struggles eventually lead looks even more important. It also sounds a lot like coaching. I believe the best educators have intuitively operated in this space for some time. Now it looks like there is some more critical research supporting that intuitive understanding.

Schools keep hiring counselors, but students’ stress levels are only growing – EdSource – Carolyn Jones (6-minute read)

While EdSource is a site that focuses its reporting on education in the nation’s largest public school system, California, this article certainly has much wider applications than The Golden State. The title alone is telling, although this piece focuses a bit more on the plight of school counselors. Yet as I read this piece, I kept thinking how little the piece addressed the complicity school might be having in the growing stress levels of students.

Clearly, the role of counselors has grown significantly over time. As one of the sources, executive director of the California Association of School Counselors Loretta Whitson, said, “School counselors are first responders.” Working in a high school, I witness this fact on a regular basis. Still, maybe the chase to find solutions may simply be addressing individual symptoms and not the actual disease. I cannot help but regularly wonder if there are not systemic problems that contribute to schools becoming unhealthy environments. Whitson further supports this notion when suggesting that counselors sometimes feel like they are putting “a band-aid on an arterial wound.”

As this article suggests, increases in poverty and homelessness do not seem to be slowing down. Those are factors that have a massive impact on schooling and yet the accountability demands placed on schools seem only to punish the systems dealing most with those social challenges. What’s more, communities with greater affluence are also forced to deal with increased student stress levels too. The individual factors may be different, although maybe not as different as it appears, the environment is the same, school. It might be time to take a much harder look at that environment with a wider focus and abandon the desire to turn every aspect of society, especially ones involving children, into a neoliberal rat race.

Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games? – The New York Times – Ferris Jabr (33-minute read)

This article is no doubt a pretty long read but it is exceptionally well-written and highly informative, especially to anyone that has wondered about the question in the title. The topic of video game addiction has fascinated me almost as long as I have been in education. I became aware of the idea after seeing an article many years ago about treatment beginning at the nearby McLean Hospital, the renowned psychiatric hospital. Since then, the video game industry and area of medical inquiry has exploded.

One of the most fascinating things about this article is that Jabr does an excellent job of explaining the shifts and controversy in defining addiction as a disorder. I suspect that for quite a few people that section alone would be new and illuminating. Another great aspect of this article is how human the reporter makes the story, not only following a subject who struggled with the video game addiction but venturing into the temptations themselves. The journalistic approach alone is a reason worth giving this a read.

What this piece mentions but does not develop significantly is how video games continue to evolve and increasingly use mechanics more like slot machines. This recent story from WBUR’s Endless Thread sheds some more light on the idea of “loot boxes” and other related issues to gaming, as well as including McLean Hospital’s Dr. Alok Kanojia psychiatry faculty member at Harvard Medical School. I also went to high school with UCLA’s Dr. Timothy Fong who started out specializing in addiction treatment for gamblers but has expanded his work into video games and is quoted in this article. I am not sure how it is even possible to ignore this topic anymore. Plus, couple the ubiquity and instantaneous access of mobile phones with video games and it becomes harder to understand how more is not being done on an array of levels.

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