Category: Newsworthy.

Video Games Over Tests?

Gone are the days where parents can yell at their kids for playing video games with good reason.

NPR Ed wrote on the growing study of why people play and play relates to learning. No, the survey didn’t involve asking questions to kids, but instead reached out to professors and directors of research labs at Stanford University and Arizona State University.

James Gee, the godfather of game-based assessment and professor of education at Arizona State University said, “Is a video game a test or a learning encounter? It’s both. You’re always being tested — you can’t get out of a level until you finish it.”

As adults that grew up playing all different kinds of systems, we love the idea of using gaming to measure the abilities of students.

Does anybody remember playing Number Munchers on your elementary school teacher’s MAC that seems like an antique now? All you wanted to do was answer the presented problems correctly so you wouldn’t be eaten by the monsters. You also wanted to be able to brag to your friends about who had a higher score and who got to a higher level.

While competitiveness might be the one of the few consequences of using video games in place of tests, that is also the case in written or standardized tests as it is. The only major problem with replacing video games with tests is the reduction of responsibility for a teacher. Developers and administrators need to find a good balance for gaming and unplugged education. Once they do, we will see a time in history where schooling became extremely personalized and teachers can swiftly figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each student through in-game psychology and reports.

So remember kids, if your parents are yelling at you for playing too many video games, just tell them you’re taking a test. We promise they’ll understand.

While reading the Harvard Business Review blog this morning, I stumbled onto a nugget in a post by Joe McCannon and Sachin H. Jain entitled “A Fairer Way of Giving Credit Where It’s Due.”

In their piece, they were discussing how managers should approach assigning credit to employees in the knowledge economy where outcomes are valued more than anything else.

“Our experience has shown that the most successful teams align their recognition systems with the outcomes they want and periodically reassess the outcomes to determine whether they are still relevant. By contrast, we have seen many struggling teams that award recognition for activity metrics (e.g., length of service, attendance) that may not have direct bearing on those goals. Johns Hopkins Medical, the internationally renowned health care system, has recently taken a bold step toward rewarding outcomes. Instead of pegging academic advancement solely to peer-reviewed publication, it now provides academic physicians with points for a successful project to improve patient care or outcomes, regardless of publication.”

After getting through this bullet, I realized that the new take on teacher tenure (starting with California) is very similar. Now be patient with me for a second, as I don’t want to take sides here.

If the medical field is employing its physicians based on how effective their theories are, shouldn’t education be treated the same?

In both instances, livelihoods are at stake for all involved. For those in Johns Hopkins Medical, there are the patients who are being tested on, and there’s the doctor who’s being critiqued by his performance. In schools, there are students and teachers.

There has to be a middle ground because if we hold this over a teacher’s head, then their performance may not be measured correctly. Just like in the argument against Common Core, teachers would focus on themselves and teaching to the test when their job is to focus on the maturity of the students.

Yet, for doctors and teachers, our nation can’t afford for them to underperform. The futures of medicine and education are on the line.

Some schools are jumping ship from the technology train.

After getting an unexpected windfall of stimulus money from Washington D.C. a few years ago, a junior high school in Hoboken, NJ is closing the door this summer on laptops for students.

One reason is that the tech support staff was unable to handle the numerous requests for repairs. Another is how the teachers were unprepared to positively utilize the new laptops. An unexpected consequence was how thousands of people would be on the wifi network, rendering the internet unusable.

There are many ways to be ready for the digital age at your school. Here are three tips:

1)      Prepare a plan

  • How are you going to use laptops? What programs will be installed? What purpose will they serve and when can students use them? In what particular classes will they be utilized?

2)      Prepare your staff

  • Make sure teachers know the ins and outs of every program that’s relevant to their material. They should be ready to integrate the technology into their curriculum before the first day.
  • It’s harder to teach when your students aren’t focused, especially when you can’t figure out how to get their attention during class. What should the consequences be for using a laptop in class and visiting off topic websites?

3)      Start with a sample size

  • You may have a whole school’s worth of laptops and iPads to give out. If you’re testing an elementary school, start with 5th graders for the first year. This will let you see how tech support staff handles those issues, as well as giving teachers and administration a chance to see how students behave with their technology.

Alison DeNisco of District Administration writes of how schools have been cutting back on librarians.

From 2006 to 2011, the number of school librarians dropped more than the number of other teachers, according to the NCES. The community members and volunteers many schools hire to take over library duties often do not have the same training and knowledge of certified librarians.

Especially in an age where schools need technical leadership for aiding students, state-certified librarians are more important than ever. I can personally attribute my computer literacy to the library and media center instructors at my elementary school.

I was one of the more fortunate kids. I went to an elementary school that had the colored Mac desktops. I remember very clearly. In 2nd grade I was playing games like Number Munchers just getting the hang of using a keyboard. In 3rd grade, I started practicing speed-typing*. In 4th and 5th grade, I really looked forward to the one hour we’d spend with the media center teacher because I hated writing cursive and loved playing with the different fonts in Microsoft Word. I always thought highly of these people, enough to become a library and media center volunteer in 5th grade.

*I want to take a moment to brag. I’ve always been very fast at typing. In fact, I was typing so fast at one point that people were telling me to stop typing so fast. That’s when you know you’ve made it.

Then in 6th grade, something amazing happened. Our middle school librarian said she’d give a piece of candy to anyone that could teach her something. That’s how good she was at her job.

I was determined to get that piece of candy.

After school, I was watching a TV show on MHz about building a website from scratch. I noticed they used the ‘find’ feature in the Internet Explorer browser. In September of 2001, this was a revelation to me.

I went back to the library the next day, showed it to my librarian, and she was in shock that I knew something she didn’t.

I thoroughly enjoyed that Snickers bar.

Here’s the thing: librarians have a very important job. Without my librarian, I would’ve had a hard time getting reputable sources for research papers in college. I wouldn’t have known how to properly do online research in the first place.

A great librarian can help a whole student body become technically proficient. A great librarian can help you find what you’re looking for. A great librarian can get you to where you need to be.

We take them for granted and we really shouldn’t. Because a great librarian makes everyone else’s life easier.

Along the same subject as our post from yesterday, Fast Company posted a piece on the origins of Honest Tea.

CEO Seth Goldman was a student at the Yale University School of Management and Chairman and Strategic Advisor Barry Nalebuff was his former economics and management professor.

The company was conceived in a class discussion about beverages, and after Goldman had spent a lot of time thinking about the beverage industry, he contacted the Yale professor.

There are many reasons why this collaboration worked; one being that Nalebluff had the capital and connections to help the business grow.

The main point here is that a student’s interest was sparked by an educator and businessman’s curriculum. Inspiration can come from different sources. If that opportunity isn’t readily available for student’s, then the ceiling from their creativity is going to be lower than we’d prefer.

The collaboration between business leaders and educators has come to light in policy and reform.

There’s the Bill Gates push for the Common Core revolution in education and, more recently, David Welch’s support in Vergara vs. California.

What is the difference between the two?

In the case for Bill Gates, Common Core is a noble idea but it has already been dropped altogether by a handful of states.

With David Welch, he supported students and helped to remove teacher tenure in the state of California.

What is the fine line between businessmen and education?

With Gates, it’s not possible for him to be at every school in the nation and helping every student succeed to see his dream come true. In Welch’s situation, he saw a problem and helped a specific group of people fight for what they believed in. They were fortunate to have the financial help from someone with a high interest in the case.

What about local businessmen helping schools in their area?

This is what we need to be asking more often. Students need opportunities to hear from successful people around them. The more involved these people with an outside perspective are in the daily activities of schools, the more they will understand what needs to be solved, and the more they’ll think about how to help.

Cicero once said, “The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.”

With schools receiving less funding and looking for corners to cut in their budgets, the question remains: how important are art, music, and physical education to a student’s curriculum?

Research supports the value in these classes, stating that those who participate in the arts do better in school and are more likely to stay in school than those who don’t; however, most parents would rather their kids spend that time on academics.

While academics are a critical part of a child’s education, their mental and physical health is equally as important. Districts typically require 150 minutes of physical education a week, and some charter schools are even pushing that number to 225 minutes. It may mean less time is being spent reading books, but P.E. classes also help reduce the likelihood of childhood obesity and sharpen students’ focus when they get back into the classroom.

The arts have been shown to act as a creative outlet for personal expression. There was a story recently about a group of middle school students from Brooklyn who formed a heavy metal band and were just signed to a $1.7 million record deal with Sony. This isn’t to say that every student is going to get the same offer, but if there weren’t support for the arts in New York, these kids would not have the opportunity that they have now.

Though every parent wants their child to be successful both in and out of academia, it is vital for us to give students a period during the day for them to get away from math, reading and science. Besides, not every person will want to pursue those subjects as a career path.

ISTE 2014 came and went, but not without making an impact on everyone in attendance.

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Last week, Esther Quintero summed up the latest of issue of The Progress of Education Reform here. He stated the following:

“In sum, teaching children interesting ‘stuff’ that is challenging and coherently presented:

  • Sets the foundation for reading with understanding;
  • Supports children’s ability to learn faster and independently;
  • May make children more perseverant and more engaged in their learning;
  • May benefit all children, while also helping to sustain the benefits of pre-k into elementary school.

So, what’s not to love about a fun, challenging, well thought out and well taught curriculum in the early years?”

The only possible setback of this is having to teach kids how to mature at an earlier age.

We’re coming into a period in civilization where we’re tapping into the intellect of children all over the world at a level unlike before. We know they’re capable of being smart and aware. In theory, teaching children challenging material in preschool sounds great. There would essentially be 13 years of schooling, and that one extra school year at 4 or 5 years old would lay a great foundation.

I believe that if kids were given positive rewards for completing boring tasks, they might expect those same rewards at a later age. There would have to be a transition period to where the students understood and appreciated learning and education for what it was, not just another way to receive trinkets.

We love this piece.

Alex Golub wrote a follow-up post to his Inside Higher Ed column from nine years ago entitled “The Professor as Personal Trainer.”

The core of his piece revolves around the following premise, “Education is not a commodity that can be bought and sold, but is a process of personal transformation. Student learning is the student’s responsibility, not the teacher’s. It requires commitment outside the classroom, not just in it. And, I maintained then (as now), the best ‘job skills’ we can give our students are the generalized capacities cultivated by a liberal arts education.”

Golub is a professor who wanted to become more physically fit, and looked for a way to relate this experience back to his classes.

For example he writes, “My students often ask me how I can live my life reading boring, poorly written books. I’ve never been sure how to answer since, let’s be honest, a tremendous amount of academic work is boring and poorly written. Now I have an answer! You have to push though the pain and persevere, never relent and keep fighting, if you want to get mentally strong. Never give up. Never surrender. Previously, I thought this was a cliché from Galaxy Quest. Now I know it’s about Deleuze. Working out has helped me understand my intellectual regimen in a new way.”

Though Golub learned lessons about mentorship from his personal trainer, the same ideals can be applied to educators in general. It is the educators’ duty to peak the interests of students so that they leave the class having loved to learn and respected the teacher. Just as Golub experienced a comforting, positive environment at his gym through his personal trainer, the same should be offered by educators at school.

We all have our issues that we deal with on a daily basis. When it comes to our students, it’s vital that we put the problems aside and give the kids 100% of our attention. We need to also provide them with the confidence to figure out solutions on their own without having to rely on us as a crutch. It isn’t just their future that depends on it, but also ours.