Tag Archives: dashboard

Life’s dashboard [#NYTEdtech]


Think of something complicated that all of the competent adults in your life are equally good at.

Having trouble?

Consider the following possibilities.

  • Parallel parking
  • Reading maps
  • Folding maps
  • Making risotto
  • Growing tomatoes from seed
  • Doing laundry
  • Consoling friends

So what would your life’s dashboard look like?

Three stages of mastery in the new Khan Academy dashboard for teachers. Students are organized into rows; content in columns.

Three stages of mastery in the new Khan Academy dashboard for teachers. Students are organized into rows; content in columns.

Is your goal for every adult in your life to master each of these skills? Is it OK for the adults in your life to attain some familiarity with each and to improve throughout their lifetime? Or must the dashboard be solid blue?

Additional question: How would you behave differently if life’s dashboard were available on your mobile device or desktop computer?

Much of the rhetoric at the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference this past week was based on individualization. The mantra here is alluring.

We have been treating time as fixed and mastery as variable. We need to flip that so that everyone attains mastery and the time they take to do it is variable.

This was a much retweeted component of Sal Khan’s keynote address (see it at 12:56 in this video).

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Instead of holding fixed how long you have to learn something and the variable is how well you learn it, do it the other way around. What’s fixed is every student should learn; we should all get to 100%, or 99% on basic exponents before moving on to the negative. And the variable should be how long we have to learn it and when we learn it.

The larger idea of which this is a part is competency-based education.

Perhaps the principle here is too broad for meaningful debate, but I do think the assumption is worth questioning. My Life’s Dashboard thinking is one way of doing that.

Another would be to state some explicit areas for concern. One is equity. We can imagine students cycling endlessly through arithmetic content deemed foundational, and never being given access to (say) algebra.

Another area for concern is the power that is given to those who create the knowledge map. A careful look at the KA knowledge map, for instance, reveals that the prerequisite knowledge for adding decimals consists of addition and subtraction skills together with additive whole number and negative number relationships.

No knowledge of fractions is necessary; no knowledge of the multiplication and division relationships underlying place value, decimals and fractions is necessary.

These assumptions about how people learn decimals are flawed, and they are known to be flawed. But powerful people are creating flawed knowledge maps, which then form the basis of the appealing fixed mastery, flexible time meme.

I have written multiple times about Cathy Fosnot‘s idea of the landscape of learning. This is a useful metaphor that conflicts in some important ways with Khan Academy’s more linear knowledge map metaphor (and at 9:21 in the video).

So I get how appealing this flexible time/fixed mastery thing is. I understand its allure. And the idea that we can summarize this information for teachers in a tidy array? Also appealing.

But it just isn’t that simple.


How did you make your way here? or The Joy of Google

My absolute favorite part of the WordPress dashboard is the list of search engine terms.

How many ways can 7 peanuts be shared among three people? Huh? Did one of my colleagues in mathematics teaching assign this nonsense to a student?

Truly hours of amusement can be had here. Two examples.

example 1: Rational expressions

Someone stopped by today after searching for

journal about difficulties one can experience if he/she does not know how o [sic] solve raional [sic] algebraic expressions

So I’m wondering what sorts of difficulties this person had in mind. Life difficulties? Medical? Relationship perhaps.

I’m pretty sure that rational expressions are self-contained. Not being able to solve rational expressions will likely only have an impact on your life inasmuch as that life involves actual rational expressions.

So your career as a high school math instructor might need to be reconsidered.

But that goal of raising happy, healthy children? This won’t be a setback. Ditto your professional football career, employment in the service sector and probably even most jobs in the burgeoning social media industry.

And FYI (in case you stop by again), most math teachers consider an expression to be something with an equal sign, and therefore not something one solves. It’s rational equations you’re concerned with.

But again, this is unlikely to matter very much outside of math class.

Example 2 online lovers

So I thought I was being really cute when I wrote about a learning management system called Canvas. The post’s title was “Meet my new online lover“.

And then I started getting hits from people searching the term “online lover”. And I kept picturing their disappointed faces. And I felt guilty.

BOnus example: Wu

Someone (possibly the man himself) has been searching the exact phrase “hung-hsi wu phoenix rising” every few days for the last couple of weeks. Never capitalized, always with the hyphen, always in that order.

I’m on the first page of results for that one.