Tag Archives: new york times

Life’s dashboard [#NYTEdtech]

Quick!

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).

Watch live streaming video from nytschoolsfortomorrow at livestream.com

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.

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Coursera [#NYTEdTech]

Daphne Koller said the following to an audience of 400 people [starting at 19:08 in the linked video] attending an educational technology conference.

There are so few opportunities for those of us here in this room to learn something new in an engaging and fun and high quality way.

From my notes. Red question mark is mine and was definitely not reflected in Ms. Koller's tone.

My notes are a paraphrasing. Red question mark is mine and was definitely not reflected in Ms. Koller’s tone.

She followed up immediately with this claim:

If you take away the residential requirement for enrollment [in college], all of us can be lifelong learners.

Also from my notes. Red comment mine.

Also from my notes. Red comment mine.

As a service to readers, I will state the assumption here:

“Lifelong learning” refers to learning that meets an external standard, and which is externally certified.

Mindsets, research and talking math with kids [#NYTEdTech]

This conversation happened in New York yesterday.

A view of New York City from the Times Center on Tuesday.

A view of New York City from the Times Center on Tuesday.

During a coffee break, I sat down on a white pleather sofa next to an older man.

Me: How has your day been?

Him: Good. You?

Me: Pretty good. Interesting.

What do you do?

Him: Retired.

Me: From what?

Him: I was president of [small New England college]. How about yourself?

Me: I teach math at a community college in Minnesota.

But I’m also working on a project. I work with future elementary teachers, so I have studied the mathematical development of children.

Him: Uh huh.

Me: And I want to use that knowledge for something else, which is this: I am trying to understand what knowledge parents need in order to support the mathematical development of their children.

Him: That’s important.

Me: Right.

[Short pause]

Me: Do you have grandchildren?

Him: Yes. They are 8 and 10.

Me: Oh nice! So their parents—your kids—are my target market.

Him: Yes. Their father is really into that. They use Khan Academy and all that.

—FIN—

If the end of that conversation makes no sense to you, I ask that you please, please, please spend the next 15 minutes over at my website, Talking Math with Your Kids. You might be especially interested in the research summaries, which demonstrate that young children need to talk about number and shape with their parents rather than (or at least in addition to) being sent to website, iPad apps and decks of flash cards.

Kids need mathematical conversation. And they enjoy it.

Talking Math with Your Kids for Kindle!

Someday there will be a full-sized paper version of a Talking Math with Your Kids book (Hear that publishers? Wanna talk? You can find me at the About/Contact page.)

Until that day, there is now a mini-version (15,000 words; roughly three chapters, $4.99) available on Kindle (and readable on other devices with the Kindle app).

Tabitha is delighted by the news!

Tabitha is delighted by the news!

Go have a look, won’t you? Share widely and let me know what you think.

Table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Counting and other adventures in number language
  3. Adding and subtracting: Two peas in a pod
  4. Conclusion
  5. References and further reading

The book is structured around conversations I have had with Griffin and Tabitha. About 1/3 of the conversations in the book have been previously documented here and/or on the new Talking Math with Your Kids site. The rest are new to readers.

There is lots of new content summarizing research in parent-friendly ways.

The impetus for getting this out now is this: funding my New York Times Schools for Tomorrow trip. I got partial funding from my college, but it’s an expensive conference. So I hacked a couple of chapters out of a draft I have been working on for quite a while now, tidied and edited them and voilá!

I don’t need your badges

Time for a public confession.

One of my favorite parts of my hard copy of the Sunday New York Times each week is the Business section. Ordinarily this has nothing to do with my job. It’s just a brief trip into a fantasy world in which I earn real money; a chance to bump elbows with people who do.

But this week there were three articles about badges.

Exhibit A: Natasha Singer’s “Slipstream” column. This covers the online trend of virtual rewards, referred to as gamification and reminds us that there may be danger in allowing ourselves to be manipulated. There is discussion of the Twitter badge on Samsung’s site, a company called Badgeville that designs game-based sites, and the difference between virtual rewards (badges) and real ones (free airplane trips).

Exhibit B: Randall Stross’s “Digital Domain” column. This covers a medical social networking site that allows patients to ask question and doctors to post and discuss answers to those questions. There are the Paramedic Award, the Good Samaritan Award, the Louis Pasteur Award and many others.

Exhibit C: A review by Nancy Koehn of Strings Attached by Ruth Grant. From the  review:

[Grant] says that paying children to elicit certain behavior may have destructive consequences in developing character, potentially nurturing self-interest at the expense of kinder motives. “Where students work in an environment that values only extrinsic rewards for learning,” she writes, “cheating goes up.”

Right. When the rewards are extrinsic (can you say “badges” or “test scores”?), those who buy in become motivated for the reward.

I don’t work for badges. Or grades. Or external evaluations of any kind, really. Of course this meant a lot of B’s and C’s in high school and much teacher and parental hand-wringing about “underachievement”. And it meant quitting the Boy Scouts after my first year because I was uninterested in earning literal badges.

Now I’m supposed to be interested in your virtual badges?

Please.

So teachers, let’s be careful about this stuff. Best case scenario in the long term seems to be annoying kids with this stuff. Worst case scenario reduces their interest in what we’re trying to motivate them to do.