Questioning Technology Reform

January 7, 2013

Dan Meyer has been channeling the nature of technology lately in his critique of various reform efforts.  Most recently he commented on the trade-offs associated with technology use in the Rocketship approach:

This is “differentiation,” says John Merrow, and it’s true that the students are working on different tasks, but at what cost? The students don’t interact with their peers or their teachers. The math program, ST Math, isn’t bad but computers constrain the universe of math questions you can ask down to those which can be answered with a click and graded by a computer. The promise of personalization, of perfectly differentiated education, has forced Rocketship to make dramatic concessions on the quality of that education. It’s a buffet line where everyone chooses their own flavor of the same gruel.

Improved Student Learning: Some Research on Students’ Views on Learning

January 6, 2013

One of my areas of research is what I refer to as the Nature of Learning.  This construct includes students’ epistemological beliefs (their beliefs about knowledge) and the beliefs about the learning process (think Dweck’s “growth mindset” and then some)*.  I first became interested in the construct when I realized some of my (and others’) students were resisting research-based teaching because they held problematic views of what teaching and learning ought to be.  Below I briefly discuss how students’ view of learning affects their learning.

Songer and Linn (1991) found that students with dynamic views of knowledge (it can change) more deeply integrated their learning.  Conversely, those who hold beliefs that knowledge is certain are likely to not learn as well or misinterpret new information (Kardash and Scholes, 1996).  These studies are not limited to college students (as many psych studies are).  Chan and Sachs (2001) found that elementary students’ integration of new information from text are affected similarly by their beliefs about knowledge.

Of course, none of the above matters if our teaching and assessments do not target deep learning (as opposed to simple regurgitation).  Songer and Linn (1991) summarize this issue well:

These findings are consistent with the view that students who hold static views of science and memorize information will do just as well on tests that do not require knowledge integration as will students who are attempting to develop integrated understanding.  In contrast, when integrated understanding is emphasized in the curriculum and required on assessments, then students with dynamic views of science will be more successful than students with static views. (p. 775-776)

*Nature of Learning goes beyond Dweck’s work – see Schommer (1990) below if you are really interested.


Chan, C. K., & Sachs, J. (2001). Beliefs about learning in children’s understanding of science texts. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 26(2), 192-210.

Kardash, C. M., & Scholes, R. J. (1996). Effects of preexisting beliefs, epistemological beliefs,and need for cognition on interpretation of controversial issues. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 260–271.

Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of Beliefs About the Nature of Knowledge on Comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology. 82(3), 498-504.

Songer, N.B., & Linn, M.C. (1991). How do students’ views of science influence knowledge integration? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28, 761-764.

Teaching Responsibility

January 5, 2013

I’ve been using standards-based grading in my courses for several semesters and run into a recurring issue regarding student responsibility. While many SBGers use weekly quizzes to determine student proficiency, I’ve opted to have students demonstrate proficiency via projects/papers (some given by me, some student generated). Importantly, I have no due dates for these assignments as I want students to decide when they are ready. I do give some suggested due dates, but I do not enforce them. Again, I want students to make the decision as to when they are ready to meet standards. I believe the ability to accurately self-assess will aid these future teachers’ ability to assess their students.

Semester after semester a recurring theme in my course evaluations is that students want due dates (what this means about the sorry state of education is for a different time). This last semester I was very upfront with students about the “due date” issue & said, “If you need due dates, here are some suggestions, but you need to hold yourself to them.” As expected, students procrastinated, & I again received these same comments on course evaluations.

I am beginning to wonder if I am allowing students’ procrastination to interfere with their learning. My point with having flexible due dates is so students can spend more time on assignments, but I am unconvinced that students are actually spending more time. Thoughts?

Technology Gives and Takes Away

December 30, 2012

From Dan Meyer:

But the very technology that lets Khan Academy assess hundreds of concepts at global scale — random number generators, string splices, and algorithmically generated hints — has downgraded, perhaps unavoidably, what it means to know math.

I hope Dan realized the full weight of his words.  Technology (all technologies) give and take away.  While it’s easy to be critical of the Khan Academy technologies, I hope we learn to be  critical of all the technologies we use in education.

What do we want from educators?

November 23, 2012

Here is a pic from Goodlad’s “A Place Called School”. We must stop pulling educators in opposite directions. We cannot expect movement with equal, but opposite forces being applied.


Zombie apocalypse & education

November 17, 2012

I’ll let a excerpt from Larry Cuban’s recent post speak for itself:

The repeated return of mistaken ideas captures well my experiences with technologies in schools and what I have researched over decades. The zombie idea that is rapidly being converted into policies that in the past have been “refuted with evidence but refuse to die” is: new technologies can cure K-12 and higher education problems of teaching and learning. The most recent incarnation of this revolving-door idea is widespread access to online instruction in K-12 education cyber-charter schools, blended schools where online instruction occurs for a few hours a day, and mandated courses that children and youth have to take.

Science, creativity, & literature

October 20, 2012

The nature of science is often misrepresented as dull, straightforward, & overly empirical. Such a view misses important aspects of creativity & intuition in science. Below is an abstract to a recent paper where the author uses insights from Edgar Allen Poe to illuminate the creative side of science. Now the question is, “how do we illuminate these aspects of science for our students?”

Edgar Allan Poe’s standing as a literary figure, who drew on (and sometimes dabbled in) the scientific debates of his time, makes him an intriguing character for any exploration of the historical interrelationship between science, literature and philosophy. His sprawling ‘prose-poem’ Eureka (1848), in particular, has sometimes been scrutinized for anticipations of later scientific developments. By contrast, the present paper argues that it should be understood as a contribution to the raging debates about scientific methodology at the time. This methodological interest, which is echoed in Poe’s ‘tales of ratiocination’, gives rise to a proposed new mode of—broadly abductive—inference, which Poe attributes to the hybrid figure of the ‘poet-mathematician’. Without creative imagination and intuition, Science would necessarily remain incomplete, even by its own standards. This concern with imaginative (abductive) inference ties in nicely with his coherentism, which grants pride of place to the twin virtues of Simplicity and Consistency, which must constrain imagination lest it degenerate into mere fancy.


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