Education Evolutions #54

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

So after a week like this, it gets a little harder to walk into work for anyone that works in a school. I don’t have a whole lot to say but to ignore the tragedy in Florida altogether seemed strangely inappropriate. For me, it is not so much fear as sadness that makes it challenging. Yet, I wonder if we might not have reached a turning point as I have seen significantly more student reaction across the country. Amidst all the comments about teens and social media, we might just be on the verge of seeing a powerful collective action by young people that we haven’t seen in this country in decades.

No real theme this week, although I guess two of the three pieces are pretty political. Although that is not exactly by design as much as it is timing. I definitely think there is a need for educators to be more politically aware than maybe ever before, as public schools are squarely in the crosshairs of politicians and have been for some time. How active they are is a personal choice but paying attention doesn’t seem like a viable option.

That being said, my pick for “If you read only one article…” this week has to be the second one, “Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’” Turnitin has become a pretty ubiquitous tool employed by schools across the spectrum and a lot of administrators like it and teachers adopt it. While one often referenced feature is the ability to create a database of canned comments that can be used to provide feedback for students, the product is at its core a plagiarism detector. Yet, that core function introduces a whole range of additional issues that do not seem to factor in the almost blind adoption that it encourages.

Hope you have a good week of vacation if you are in New England. No issue next week as I will be spending some quality time with the family and dialing down the devices a bit. Also, enjoy the Winter Olympics if you are into that. I think they are awesome.

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

Government moves to scrap national standards and charter schools – Stuff –  Brad Flahive (3-minute read)

This was a huge surprise to see. A nation recognizing the folly of what Pasi Sahlberg has so excellently dubbed the global edreform movement otherwise referenced as GERM. The fact that New Zealand looks like they might be coming to their senses and ditching both national standards and charter school inspires extraordinary hope.

Granted it is only a bill that has been introduced into the Kiwi legislature. Still, this is a story that is definitely worth following. I cannot even fathom an American legislator having the courage to suggest that national standards and charter schools “were driven by ideology rather than evidence.” Of course, that would be a statement of fact but that has never really entered into the conversation on these shores. Maybe, just maybe, New Zealand will spark a new response to GERM that provides the beginning of a more sustained effort to turn the tide toward much better and sensible ideas about education.

Classes should do hands-on exercises before reading and video, Stanford researchers say – Stanford | News –  David Plotnikoff (6-minute read)

This was an item that resurfaced for me recently but I found it interesting for reasons of timing, perhaps. While this piece is a kind of commercial for BrainExplorer, an interactive tabletop learning environment. Did you catch that? I am not sure it could have been mentioned more in a piece this brief.

However, it was a great reminder of a teaching strategy that has actually been around for some time, the inductive teaching method. It is a method I first formally understood from a master teacher that turned me on to Models of Teaching, early in my career. It is a remarkably effective method and has even been adapted in a whole host of ways, including POGIL, which a chemistry colleague used to use all the time. Inductive teaching is a method I have probably been trying to master my entire career.

Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’ – NPREd –  Anya Kamenetz (22-minute read)

I include a lot of pieces about virtual schooling for a variety of reasons. I have taught virtual classes for years and have even participated in some audits of a couple of online institutions. Those experiences have made me believe that there is a place for online schools. However, I also think that that place has limitations and is rife with potential for malfeasance. This NPR story highlights exactly the kind of suspect activity that I see way too often.

Most online schools exist under a statutory charter school provision. This article does a good job of explaining that in a bit more detail than most. What it does better is begin to show in stark relief the chords that connect the charter school network, for-profit virtual school outfits, and the political networks that advance them, especially the extremely dubious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). All of their efforts to manipulate and influence policy are particularly virulent. It requires a much keener eye than most are probably prepared to maintain. Like I said, I think there is a place for virtual schools but it is a niche, not the norm.

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