Instructional creativity [#NYTEdTech]

As you may know, I spent the day at the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference, in Times Square. Gorgeous building, very well organized event.

Photo Sep 17, 8 55 18 AM

Let me tell you two stories from my day today.

First story

I sat out the panel session on the question, What’s the new era business model for higher education. But I listened in on most of it from an adjacent room. Tony Florence began one of his turns on the panel by asking us to, “Imagine a household that doesn’t have a DVR—unacceptable; that’s not TV right now.”

I do not need to imagine that house. I live in that house. Large numbers of students in America’s public schools live in that house. (And can we please follow up on the “house” assumption?)

But that was just a prelude to his next point, which had to do with education.

“Tivo for the classroom. It records the lecture, syncs up with content—PowerPoint or whatever—and is available for the student to pause, rewind and play as many times as necessary.”

Second story

Delaware governor Jack Martell was speaking about how data is being used in Delaware schools.

Evidently, data is collected about student performance (I do not have in my notes the details of how this occurs). Teachers have one hour each week that they are to meet in teams in their schools to pore over this data, to make sense of it and to inform instruction.

He offered the example of a group of teachers (at, say, fourth or fifth grade) who see in their data that their students are struggling with adding fractions*. But they notice (because data is shared within the district) that the students at the school down the street are doing better.

So the teachers in the first school go to the teachers in the second school and ask, “What worksheets are you using?”


For me, these two stories encapsulate the kind of instructional creativity that was on display today. That lectures, PowerPoints and worksheets are the media and formats we are working with is taken for granted. The question is how these will be delivered.

This is our revolution.

Follow up from the comments

Max Ray writes in response to Delaware’s data initiative. Max works at Drexel’s Math Forum, and so resides in Gov. Markell’s neighborhood.

I’m hearing more and more math coaches and teachers and curriculum supervisors asking, “What do these kids already know?” and “What’s the reasoning behind that mistake?” and “What if we asked the *kids* to analyze and discuss these errors that some of them are making?” and other data-driven questions that they can ask because the whole state seems to be pretty committed to making problem solving and communication a core part of STEM education.

* About which…how much data does the average fifth grade teacher really need to collect to draw this conclusion?

7 responses to “Instructional creativity [#NYTEdTech]

  1. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    So telling. So incredibly trapped in a veritable flood of their own bullshit.

    The more experience I have with “data-driven” education, the more certain I am that it is almost entirely a waste of time, energy, and thought. And that means it’s sucking away from how those could be more productively spent.

    People sit around talking about data at the most ridiculously shallow level because it’s damned hard to probe the numbers, no matter how you arrange them, to get at the useful information teachers actually need. But everyone feels obligated to pretend that s/he is looking at some profound, deeply-insightful information that contains the answers we’ve all been waiting for. What a pathetic charade.

  2. The first speaker seemed particularly clueless about some trends in parenting—more and more families are not having the TV in the first place, much less the DVR. (We only got a TV set when we needed one as a monitor for an analog video camera for an underwater robotics project—we picked up free off the street when everyone was discarding analog TV sets.)

  3. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. My school’s newest “revolution” is to take us out of our classrooms a few times a year (let’s not talk about that lost day of instruction), stick us in a room together, and theoretically let us pore over data and plan our hearts away. I say “theoretically” because a significant portion of this day is taken up by organizing and analyzing the data for reporting to APs and doing things like Frayer models that also must be turned in, since we’re just teachers and are too dumb to plan instruction without first breaking down the standard in an organized manner.

  4. With these types of events, I always look at the list of sponsors. Found it interesting that they had “presenting”, “silver”, and “supplier” sponsor categories. As a Canadian, I also found it interesting that Blackberry was one of the sponsors. Perhaps fitting for the “revolution” you described in this post. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’m sad that that’s the impression Governor Markell left you with. Working closely with Delaware schools there are some great math educators working across the state to make the data driving instruction genuinely useful. While I’m sure there’s plenty of what Governor Markell described happening, there is also statewide PD with like 90% of the state’s high-school teachers, all of whom are using or piloting one of 2 NCTM standards-based curricula and are working hard to envision a “new normal” of student-centered, problem-based instruction, statewide (note we’re talking like 12 public high schools total in the state). And so they’re finding ways to take ownership of the data collection and data-poring-over time to look at student work closely and figure out how to identify students’ current thinking and give them something new to chew on, rather than re-teach or borrow worksheets. It takes a lot of effort and sometimes, yeah, there are too many initiatives and too many demands on teachers’ time so they don’t get that hour to look closely at student work; and it’s hard to get away from the kind of looking at data that’s poring over multiple choice quizzes that just leave one (me, anyway) wishing I’d just asked the kids to explain. And there are plenty of worksheets happening. But I’m hearing more and more math coaches and teachers and curriculum supervisors asking, “What do these kids already know?” and “What’s the reasoning behind that mistake?” and “What if we asked the *kids* to analyze and discuss these errors that some of them are making?” and other data-driven questions that they can ask because the whole state seems to be pretty committed to making problem solving and communication a core part of STEM education. So… Governor Markell clearly needs a new speech writer! And, for the record, I don’t even live in Delaware. I just like it there.

  6. Thanks for that, Max. It was a very useful perspective.

    Gov. Martell needs a new speech writer, perhaps. Or he needs to say “no” to speaking engagements where he is going to be representing Delaware’s data initiative extemporaneously. Because it’s not just about communicating that Delaware is doing better, more nuanced work than the impression he gave. It’s also about communicating that such work is important.

    This was not—overall—an audience that understands that (for example) all data generated in schools is not equally useful. So if he is reporting on his state’s work, his remarks can confirm for them that data collection is easy, that teachers get better by looking at datasets, and that meaningful instructional change in response to data involves getting better worksheets.

    Next time he needs to send a teacher.

  7. “Next time he needs to send a teacher.” Amen. And I particularly appreciate the idea that like not all data generated in schools are equally useful, not all conversations about education are equally useful. Any time I hear someone suggest that a pedagogical shift is “easier than it looks” or “not that hard” or “a lot easier for the teachers/kids/parents” I’m immediately concerned — concerned about what the audience is hoping for and learning about solutions in education, and concerned about what the heck the person thinks. Overthinking one’s teaching is HARD, and a good Governorship is one that respects that and makes space for hard work. By doing things like sticking to a course for long enough to see fruit, by choosing plans that offer long-term, systemic solutions rather than quick fixes, and by educating oneself about the shifts that people are working on/towards to help hold out the vision even as the hard work of managing details gets hammered out.

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