Friday, August 16, 2013

Why Testing Could Ruin The Common Core

A statement from this article describes the intention of the Common Core Standards:

"The standards, which were written by a panel of experts convened by governors and state superintendents, focus on critical thinking and analysis rather than memorization and formulas."

This is good.  Reflecting on the notion that anyone was at anytime focusing on memorization and formulas when teaching our kids is scary.  But why was the focus on memorization and formulas?  Because that's what the tests valued.  That's what the tests measured.  So what else would the teachers be compelled to focus on?

The thing is, you can't test critical thinking.  You can't test analysis.  At least not by a standardized test.  Because thinking critically and analyzing are not standard.

What will end up happening is teachers will begin to learn what the new standardized tests measure.  Will these new tests be better than the current iteration?  Probably.  But they won't measure what they are intended to measure.  So teachers will adapt.  They'll teach their students to recognize what the tests are asking for.  They'll develop testing strategies for a different kind of test, but still a standardized test that is scored by artificial intelligence.  And that kind of test will never truly measure what our kids can and should learn.

This is a shame, because the intention of the Common Core is legit.  Of course we should focus on critical thinking and analysis rather than memorization and formulas.  But quit worrying about how to measure it and how we compare to other countries that are worrying about how to measure it.  I think Goodhart's Law is appropriate:

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Dark, Massive Asteroid...

(started this post sometime in May, didn't finish til just now)

So I see this headline on this morning:

"Dark, massive asteroid to fly by Earth on May 31st."

And immediately I'm asking questions:

How close will it be?  Will I be able to see it?  How do they know when it's going to fly by Earth?  How big is the asteroid?  Is Bruce Willis going to have to save us?

At this point I haven't even read the article yet.  I click on it and read, and now I've got more questions:

How did they figure out that the asteroid is 1.7 miles long?  How do they know it's orbital path?  If one theory is that it flew close enough to the sun to torch it but not destroy it, how close was that?  How can they tell it will be 3.6 million miles away from us?  Radio antennas are used to view the asteroid; how do those work?

8-10 questions, just like that.  What if we asked our students to read the title of the article and list all the questions that come to mind?  We could then have them read the article and list all the questions that come to mind.  Then spend the next month at school utilizing all your "instructional time" learning the answers to those questions.  Use the Internet.  Use your teachers.  Use the library.  Use each other.  Call the Jet Propulsion Lab and ask them questions.  Call my buddy who is an Assistant Principal at La Canada High School where students have parents who work at JPL and ask him if he knows anyone who can help.  Just ask.  And find out.

What if they blogged about the process along the way?  Captured video?  Created a documentary?  What if they presented the math they learned to their classmates?  What if they summarized the process and submitted that summary as an assessment?

What if school were like that?

Instancy and Critical Thinking

"When I was your age I walked 5 miles to school, uphill both ways, in the snow..."

I think most of us heard some form of this when we were kids, even if it was just in jest.  I write this post with that in mind, amazed (and a bit embarrassed) by the fact that I'm at a point in my life where I'm going to talk about how different it was when I was a kid.

I love technology and all its benefits.  I utilize it non-stop.  But there's something to be said about the instancy of our world and how it has negatively impacted critical thinking.

I can vividly remember one of the first times I realized I was thinking critically.  Maybe it wasn't critical thinking, it might have just been simple problem solving.  And I'm sure I had problem solved many times before this one instance, but in this particular case I consciously realized I had solved a problem on my own.

I had a walkman.  It played tapes.  I don't know how old I was at the time, maybe 7 or 8.  It had three buttons: play, stop, and fast forward.  I wanted to hear a song again and I didn't want to listen to the entire rest of the side of the tape, and the entirety of the other side, before hearing it.  Short of me taking the tape out and twirling the rotor with my finger, I had to find a more efficient way to do this.  Somehow it hit me...if I switch the tape to the other side and press fast forward, that would be the same as rewinding it on this side.  I was proud of myself.

Technology changed that.  A more expensive walkman had a rewind button.  Then cds came out.  Instead of rewinding to a song I could just hit one button and it would immediately go back to the beginning of the song.  Amazing!  But with the advancements in technology, leading to instantly rewinding my song, there was a loss of problem solving.  A loss of the need to think critically.

I think this has happened in a lot of areas in our lives.  I used to have my best friends' phone numbers memorized.  I'm sure that was a small exercise of the brain.  My phone does that for me now.  Going on a trip I'd do the navigation myself.  An app does that for me now.  Things that took some time are now done instantly.  And more often than not, done for us.  In many ways this is a great thing, but not in all ways.

I wouldn't trade the advances in technology for the times of yesteryear.  But as an educator, and as a dad, it's crucially important that we allow our kids opportunities to exercise their intrinsic ability to decipher, think, wonder, and solve.  You'd think that because the world is moving so much faster we'd have more time to think, but the opposite is true.  The instancy has taken thinking away from us.  We've got to be aware of this and intentionally put it back into the lives of our kids.