Is Ed Tech Sexy Yet?

There is plenty of buzz around Ed Tech; there is SXSW Edu, Startup Weekend Edu, and of course Sal Khan’s face plastered all over business and tech publications. But why is the field still full of horrendously designed websites, incomplete data, and generally unprofessional products?

I just saw an article highlighting Digital Wish, a website that uses the crowd-funding model we know and love from Donor’s Choose and Kickstarter, and from the write-up it sounded great but once I clicked through to the site I was stunned at how immature, unprofessional, and outdated the website looked. Why can’t Ed Tech companies find good designers and front-end developers?

websitelanding

This might seem like a surface complaint but I think it speaks to the industry and its values a whole. As much as Educational Tech is becoming more relevant to traditional “Tech people” it still has a long way to go before it is a respected and widely known area of technologic advances and development. We don’t need a million social networks or a billion iPhone games; we need to educate the world so that children of today can become creative leaders and innovators of tomorrow. If seen through that perspective, the world of tech will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of educational advances, so let Ed Tech into the club!

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Posted in Education Revolution

Learning Deeply, Not Shallowly

Something I’ve been thinking about is the implication of our information overload society.

What will learning look like in the future?

Will skills replace knowledge as the mark of an accomplished, interesting person?

Will “prodigy”-like behavior become more common, since more people have access to unlimited resources via the internet?

How will schools change so that they have something to offer beyond a big library and knowledge that is hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of years old?

surrounded-by-books

At the moment, the most relevant conclusion I can draw given the current quality of open information and amount is that in order to take advantage of these resources, we as lifelong learners needs to go deep, not wide. Or perhaps, more specifically, become T-shaped knowledge workers. Delve deep into a small number (1-3) topics, get very good at them. All the while take advantage of the vast array of information being generated and organized all the time on the internet to have a varied, balanced perspective.

Personally, I have been going wide but not deep, since up until recently I couldn’t think of which areas I wanted to focus on. Blog posts and Wikipedia entires, Quora questions and friends’ Facebook links– all of this fed to my development of a preliminary knowledge base in topics like cooking, feminism, and comedy. The same things have contributed to my knowledge of technology, education, design, and conceptual computer science & mathematics, but now it’s time to whittle that list down and dive deep!

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Posted in Education Revolution

On Mathematics, Arts, and Mastery

This is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote 1.5 years ago, that I think is important to keep in mind:

A lot of attention in current literature about mathematics education reform has been drawn to the fact that it is unheard of for an intelligent, successful adult to proclaim that they are illiterate, but it is quite common to hear someone say they can’t do math. Many people have proclaimed that this is entirely unnecessary because everyone can do math, but our current educational structure makes it so they believe they cannot, or they fall behind, or they get stuck and never recover. I wholeheartedly agree, and programs that have been proven to improve performance of an entire classroom at varied levels should definitely get a push to be implemented in more schools (I would love to be a part of this push).

Fractal1_1000In addition, I believe that this false belief is true for the arts too. So many people say “oh I can’t draw” or “I can’t dance” but I don’t think this is something that is unimportant or something that they cannot achieve a certain level of proficiency in. People may not have the interest in practicing as often as artists do to achieve true mastery, but they can certainly be able to draw a proportional face, or have enough physical self-control to mimic a simple dance or embody a character. Many aspects of learning and executing the arts involve things that will be useful for future and for life, and in addition these subjects have been proven to be important to the “human development” of a student more than pre-career development (think of the value of great literature—very ‘human’).

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Posted in Education Revolution

My Take on the Teacher Evaluation Debate

In response to: “What Makes a Great Teacher? Finally, We’ve Got Some Answers” (Take Part)

Remember when your teacher would say “Okay someone is coming in today to observe so everyone be on your best behavior” and proceeded to act a little (or a LOT!) differently than usual? How about instead of in-person evaluations schools bought small, cheap cameras to record a few (maybe 3) lessons scattered throughout the year? The mere presence of an “observer” changes the teacher. It would take a lot of guts to show a movie for 3/4 of the class while someone was observing, but on a random school day plenty of teachers will occasionally do so in place of an actual lesson.

I’m glad about the student evaluations (Adults need to trust students! They are not clueless. When they liked a teacher who challenged them, rewarded them, and inspired them– it really is a trustworthy measure), I hope that the test score increases are measured on an accurate scale. Bringing students from 88% proficient to 92% proficient is VERY DIFFERENT than bringing them from 52% proficient to 56% proficient; hopefully these measures reflect that. It could be as simple as the following equivalencies:

1pt. gain 90-100 =

2pt. gain 80-89 =

3pt. gain 70-79 =

4pt. gain 60-69 =

5pt. gain 50-59 =

6+ pt gain 0-49

You would measure the END percentage of proficient students in a class (or the average of their test percentiles, which would be even more specific) and calibrate the system across classes to that.

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Posted in Education Revolution

Hacking Your Education is Better Than Not Learning

In response to: “Education is the Work of Teachers, Not Hackers” (The New Republic)

This sounds like the typical snobbery of a humanities devotee. Yes, humanities are worthwhile. But if we have a resource crunch and a money crunch, wouldn’t you rather educate people to learn skills they can apply to useful work, and encourage them to enjoy reading and learning on their own? Can’t they learn about life and love and humanity outside of a classroom, but devote their formal education to acquisition of skills that our society needs?

It’s pretty obnoxious to assume that if a student who can barely pay for community college has the choice between studying the humanities in a school and saving money by learning math, science, programming, design, engineering, and other in-demand disciplines online and through cheap skillshare classes that both options are equally valid. The people who write articles like this one seem to be stuck in their world of upper-middle and upper class citizens with lots of options and cushions to fall back on if their college education provided them with few skills but many ‘enlightened thoughts’.

UnCollege_logo

Tell me this: If the deep study of humanities is so critical for creating an intelligent and informed citizenry, are those who have devoted more time to humanities “better” citizens? When you lament those who are unaware of history, isn’t it just as tragic when someone with little knowledge of actual science proclaims that global warming is made up and evolution isn’t real?

There is place for all subjects in an education, but for those who have opportunities to teach themselves skills and information, online resources are amazing and revolutionary. For those whose only other options are costly, or even for those are unsatisfied by the scope of the more traditional options, hacking their education is a useful and beneficial way to steer their future in a prosperous direction.

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Posted in Education Revolution

Bringing Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Into the 21st Century

Recently, as part of his lecture series at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Howard Gardner gave an overview of his lauded Multiple Intelligences theory and discussed some possible applications of his ideas in the field of Education. I went with my boss/mentor/big sis Rupal from Breakthrough Cambridge!

It was very cool to be sitting so close to such an intellectual icon (She got there 1.5 hrs early and saved seats in the third row haha!) and to hear him explain his own ideas instead of hear someone else summarize them. Much of the lecture was an overview for me, which was a bit of review plus some more interesting detail and depth (I have not yet read his book, so I only had a vague grasp of the theory).

howard_gardner

One of the most valuable and interesting parts of the lecture was when he used examples of applications of Multiple Intelligences theory. I was familiar with Scratch, a tool developed by MIT that helps young children learn programming and computation theory in a simple and fun environment, allowing them to draw and create animations & games. One thing that was very exciting that i had never heard of was the Explorama at Dansfoss Universe. Through a series of 50 games and activities dispersed throughout a space, children can exercise each of the intelligences. They are as varied as stacking blocks so that they are properly balanced, to playing a game with other students, to stepping through a maze of string like the laser-beams in spy movies.

I was inspired by this idea and was thinking; what if instead of sticking to old, rigid subject areas in school, we embraced thinking styles instead, molding project-based learning to combine a few intelligences in each project and ensure that students are getting a robust education in all eight. A few could be incorporated to all; for example, interpersonal (social) intelligence would be incorporated into basically every project since student would work together to build, create, and problem-solve. Intrapersonal (self-reflective) intelligence would additionally be useful as student assessed what they would enjoy most about a project before they began, and then assess their own performance, attitude, etc. after each project was completed.

The other intelligences are:

Logical/Mathematical (we already focus on this, but I would like to see more an emphasis on Logic itself, not just computation and calculation)

Spatial (neglected, I think! Let’s make everyone a designer, engineer, and artist)

Linguistic (we already focus on this, but let’s help kids create and generate impressive speeches, stories, and essays rather than just spit things out, copy things, and memorize things)

Bodily-Kinesthetic (does not need to by sequestered to gym class; dance, athleticism, and movement can be incorporated into a wide variety of more “academic” projects)

Musical (again, sequestered to Music class but could potentially be involved in many other projects)

Naturalistic (I associate this with scientific investigation, and would love to see this explored by students actually going outdoors, or looking at their own cells from a cheek swab, much more often. Basically, more labs, and better labs with fewer pre-defined outcomes)

Existential (A ninth potential intelligence; totally neglected, other than maybe in high school English classes when discussing characters and plot; This could be incorporated into school from a very young age. Students can be taught to examine, to probe, to think some through, and to constantly ask “Why?” This can only ever help them!)

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Posted in Education Revolution, Project-Based Learning

Affirmative Action: Finding the Real Cause of Education Disparity

This is something I’ve wanted to address for a while. While I don’t have hard numbers and statistics to back up my ideas (please point me in the direction of some if you know of any studies related to this), I think the ideas need to be said.

It looks like when schools, communities, non-profit organizations, and standardized test developers announce plans to foster diversity, inclusiveness, and benchmarks for mastery, they are mistakenly focusing all of their attention on race (and a bit on gender), and very little of their attention on class, income, education level of parents or caregivers, and available educational resources outside the home. Maybe if we stopped wondering why Black and Hispanic children (not “minorities”, since Asians are not typically placed in this category) are lagging behind and instead focused on the fact that low-income Black, Hispanic, Asian, White, Native American, etc. children are lagging behind. Their low performance is not predestined by their skin color, but rather by the limited resources available, the lack of their parents’ language fluency and quantitative skills, the poor health attributed to a high-calorie low-nutrition diet, and the low-achieving peers around them. How about our society where many people live in urban areas stops being biased against the low-income urban dwellers and remembers all of the rural low-income White, Christian Americans from all over the country who have just as little access to resources or knowledge or role models, and just as much fast food and distraction.

The other, and likely more controversial point, is that can we really say with certainty that the 4th generation janitor has the same natural level of aptitude, on average, as the 4th generation doctor? Is it just a matter of the fact that the latter had more money or a different color of skin that they would perform better in school? Isn’t it also likely that because of years of under-enriched environments across generations, the first student most likely will not reach the levels of aptitude that the second will?

That said, not that I used the word “aptitude” rather than “intelligence” or “success”. The natural abilities may not be at the same level, and therefore the student may struggle to learn things as quickly, but they can definitely be successful in a system that is willing to start from the beginning and allows children enough time to learn a topic, master it, and move on.

I think if we keep these ideas in mind and mold educational reforms in these directions, rather than in the misguided direction of race-based affirmative action and racial standardized test trend-tracking, educators and leaders will create more effective programs to give those with few resources and academic background the tools they need to help their child learn and grow.

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Posted in Class/Gender/Race