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Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Marina Ratner, Making Math Education Even Worse, which contained quite a few misconceptions about the Common Core and specifically about the Common Core Math Standards. Here is my attempt to shed light on what’s good and bad about the standards and their implementation. The Common Core Math Standards were adapted from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendations, and these were created over a period of many years by teachers. There has been general agreement among math teachers along these standards, and there were some adjustments as the standards were folded into the Common Core. The movement for Common Core standards was originally put forth by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Secretary Duncan and President Obama then gave it their support. The movement was thus not top down, nor bottom up, but more middle (state) to top (federal) to bottom (district and school). The standards are not set up primarily for students who are vying for admission at elite universities. The standards were set so that high school graduates are capable of doing math work that is required in Community Colleges. Currently, about 75% of high school graduates are not able to do math at this level, even if they meet state standards for math. Most of the old state standards were detailed curriculum maps. The new standards are learning standards. There is no one prescribed method for teaching; educators are given more discretion. When a teacher, school, or district claims that they have to teach a certain way because of the standards, it’s not true; the standards do not dictate teaching methods. Not only are the standards generally more rigorous than state standards, there is a realignment of what is taught in each grade. A rule of thumb is that about 40% of the material overlaps existing standards for a grade, 30% of the standards moves material from a higher grade to a lower one (like what was formerly taught in 7th grade might now be taught in 5th), 15% moves material from a lower grade into a higher one, and 15% is new material that was not taught before (for example, many states never taught statistics, but statistics is now part of the standards). These are not definitive; they will vary for each state and for each grade. Another adjustment is that the standards attempt to measure thinking, not just knowledge. In the old standards, a student merely got the answer right or wrong. On the new ones, students show their thinking process so that they can get credit for knowing what to do even if they make stupid errors. Because there are...

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Each year, Jeff Silber of BMO Capital Markets hosts their Back to School education investment conference. There are a lot of challenges in education, from new regulations, roadblocks to federal funding, a sea change in technology, and changing buying patterns. This year, ABA was pleased to be included into the program’s K12 segment, with Farimah moderating a panel on the role of the teacher in the education economy. Read more below. Also, for anyone going to Ednet next week in Denver, let us know if you want to meet. We are proud to be a sponsor of the conference. Legislative and Regulatory Update Nina Rees, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Look for continued cutbacks in federal education money, with nothing much on the horizon except a continuation of sequestration cutbacks. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) governs federal funding and regulations for K12 schools, and is supposed to be reauthorized every 5 years. The most recent reauthorization was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.While nearly everyone in Washington sees major flaws in the 2001 act, there will be no ESEA reauthorization or K12 legislation in the foreseeable future. This means that there is more action taking place at the state level, and that private foundations are having a big influence on state departments of education by lobbying and funding pet projects. Funding penalties to all states and nearly all districts for not meeting the NCLB prescriptions (legislated in 2001 and never adjusted) has given the Department of Education the opportunity to negotiate policy changes with states in return for “forgiving” non-compliance. These negotiations generally cover a two-year period, result in policies that vary state by state, and have to be renegotiated every two years. There is some pressure to change the definition of failing schools. Currently schools fail when their students to not pass grade-level tests. An alternative is that a school would fail if its students progressed at less than one year’s worth knowledge gain. If a student starts out as two years behind, there is little in the short term the school can do to bring that student up to grade level, and so the school and teacher would be labeled as failures. The change would be to recognize that perhaps the school could at least help that student from falling further behind, or start to catch up, and that that would be progress. So far, there is no change to the original definition being posited by the Department of Education, and there is little hope of any progress with the definition being changed through ESEA reauthorization in the near future, but it’s...

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Do you tell students to highlight or underline material in order to learn it better? Do you provide them with keyword mnemonics to help with memory? Do you ask them to visualize concepts in order to better understand them? Do you have them summarize what they have learned? In the article Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology, published by the Association for Psychological Science, the authors point out that these commonly used techniques offer very low payback for students. The paper looked at learning techniques that teachers teach students to do on their own to see which ones are useful strategies for learning, and which ones are just wastes of time.Which techniques are effective? Practice tests: when they self-test or take practice tests in order to learn and assess their laerning Distributed practice: when they spread out their study activities over time instead of cramming them all into one timeframe Elaborative interrogation: when they stop and ask themselves why a fact or concept is true Self-explanation: when they reflect on how new information Is related to what they already know, or when they explain the steps involved in solving a problem Interleaved practice: when they mix different kinds of problems within a study session Note that three of the techniques involve practice. The very process of answering questions improves knowledge and retention. By distributing the practice over time, and by varying the content practiced (as opposed to block practice, where a particular skill is practiced repeatedly, and then the next skill, etc.), the practice time can be maximized to produce the most learning in the least amount of time. The other two techniques involve reflection. While learning or reading, students reflect on how this material relates to what they already know or do, or they stop and ask themselves why the specific passage or content is true. As we teach students to become self-directed learners. We should focus on these five techniques that are proven to work. You can read the full 50+ page study here. I should also point out that this article was brought to my attention by Steve Peha at Teaching That Makes Sense. Finally, there has been a lot of Cognitive Psychology research into the most effective ways to use practice to enhance memory and learning. Two young companies with products based on that research are Foundations in Learning in reading and Insight Learning in Math. These products are focused the most efficient ways, based on the most current research, to get students to proficiency and fluency. Related Articles Hooked on Mnemonics…Sort of 5 Learning Techniques Psychologists...

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Lucas Gillispie (above) works with teachers in his district to offer semester, full-year, and after school programs to Middle School students using games, or, more precisely Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). He co-authored a full one-year ELA curriculum using World of Warcraft (WoW), maintains a website on courses using Minecraft, and runs a third website to start showcasing curriculum that can be followed using practically any game. This is his fourth year teaching with games. I recently got a chance to talk to Lucas about using MMORPGs for learning. Do you incorporate the learning into the games, or do you offer the games as a reward? Students play, and they learn, and then they learn some more. For example, students might get together in World of Warcraft to form a player guild. This could be across classes or schools. They look at what a guild can do. They come up with what they want this guild to do. They discuss and research what they want their reputation to be, and then they write a mission statement for the guild. They research mission statements to figure out what a good one is, and then they write one. They decide on norms of behavior and rules. And they compare what they’ve done in WoW to what they experience in real life. This lesson combines digital citizenship and writing. Are there other types of writing, other than mission statements? Here is an example of creative writing. Students study riddle poems and look at examples. Using what they have learned about World of Warcraft, they create their own riddle poems for that world. They get feedback about the poems from friends before going public with them. They then go into a crowded area in that world to challenge other players to answer their riddle poems and give prizes. In this process they have researched, written, given constructive feedback, and performed for a real virtual audience. Then they reflect on the experience. In another type of exercise, students look at characters and how they impact the storyline of the world. They are learning to consider characterization and point of view. We’ve had them tweet in character as they were acting in WoW. We have quests where they use argumentative writing. They write fan fiction, writing from their character’s point of view. We’ve had them write reports on books like The Hobbit, relating their quests in WoW to the hero journey, and then relate those to their real world experiences as well. All these lessons are available on our website. Do you recommend World of Warcraft to other schools? We’ve had about 20 schools...

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This article is written by Farimah Schuerman. Last week I attended the Edventures 2013 event of the Education Industry Association. Two presentations on Friday, one of which was a joint presentation with Charlene Blohm of C. Blohm & Associates, but, like every such gathering, as much was learned if not more, than was shared in our presentations.  Intimate sessions, plenty of networking, made this a really valuable two days. I was particularly intrigued to see how the SES (Supplemental Education Services) companies are reinventing themselves into services that collaborate with local school districts, often taking on roles that the districts can’t always provide internally. Three hot topics in the sessions included are summarized briefly here. EIA is an association with roots in much of the for-profit world of education, so it was entirely fitting that the initial presentation was by Michael B. Horn of the Christensen Institute, whose new book, Private Enterprise and Public Education with Frederick M. Hess, on this topic is one I’ll be taking on my summer read. Some of the questions he posed and answered: Are there incentives to encourage student centered learning in the for profit sector? What are the taxonomies of technology-enabling for student centered learning? Rotation: computer lab use Flex: small group of computers which students use during free time A la carte: a variety of applications to be used as any student needs Enriched virtual school: complete integration of applications and systems in blended learning scenario How does innovation take hold? How do you think about identifying ways to enter a market? Solve old traditional problems, Sell to educators in sustaining innovation models Sell to educators in highly disruptive models He thinks we are in a hybrid phase, not in true innovative mode, but that may come in time. “Hybrid innovation combines old and new processes and serves existing users, “says Horn. Disruptive innovation seeks to reach new users who have not yet participated in that market. Much more to learn, but read the book, it was an enormously engaging talk. Another hot topic, Presented by Steve Ross of the Johns Hopkins Graduate School of Education, was evaluation, and how it might be done more efficiently, and also, how to differentiate the types: Valued: primarily quantitative, based on data, but not necessarily with a control group and not necessarily randomized Mixed methods which include both qualitative and quantitative data, done with 2 control and two samples. It is considered medium rigor and medium cost research, which might be done as qualitative with a single control group. This can be good in a portfolio, but is not valued in the What Works Clearinghouse....

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Podstock is my favorite education conference. It’s in Wichita, Kansas, and is run by the Central Kansas Education Services Agency ESSDACK. Keynoting this year’s Podstock was Mark Klassen. At 20 years old, Mark is an internationally known cinematographer. His parents, key teachers, and his Middle and High Schools were all instrumental in allowing him to find and pursue his passion. If Mark had been forced to spend his class time drilling for standardized tests, he never would have developed. Did he learn math, science, writing, reading, history, and communications? Yes! Key teachers provided the encouragement, inspiration, and cover for Mark to develop his skills and knowledge by pursuing what will become his life-long project. Did his teachers provide all the answers? No. When Mark needed to learn something in order to advance his craft, he took it as his own responsibility, reaching out through the Web and Social Networks to find answers, and then putting in the time to learn the skills he needed. Was he exempt from all school requirements? No. Mark described how, after travelling across the US and Canada making films, he had to go back and take “normal” classes in his senior year. That’s when he almost crashed, as he learned how restrictive the educational system can be. Imagine yourself, with your real world experiences, going back to school and doing drudge exercises. But having tasted real, not academic success, he was able to bear through his senior year (with A’s, B’s, and C’s, because grades were not his priority) and respect the limits of the educational system, because he knew it was a necessary step. What lessons can we take from Mark’s story? Mark had access to great parenting, inspiring and flexible schooling, and he had drive, skills, and luck. Mark is an exception, not everyone can excel in a field while still in high school, not everyone has the talent or drive that Mark has. Still, Mark shows the impact a caring teacher can have, the need for flexibility. And his experiences in his senior year highlight how restricting our schools systems can be. Don Wettrick of Indianapolis led my last session. Don leads a class for students who do not want to be told what to study. Students start out by looking through the Common Core standards, and then devise projects that meet multiple standards and interest them. Students opt-in to the course, and perhaps 1 in 5 students cannot adapt to being self-directing, in which case the can go back to a more traditional class. He students have created charities, started successful businesses, interviewed professional athletes (even gotten press passes for...

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