Chicken or the Egg – Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?

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The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.

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MY RESPONSE:

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I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Fewer Than 1/4 of Americans Use “Advanced” Math at Work…

But how many use “advanced” writing?? No one ever poses this question – is it because a larger portion of Americans think they are “good” writers? (As opposed to anyone who has ever said, “I was never good at math.”)

This post from the Atlantic takes research from Northeastern University professor, Michael Handel, and puts together his charts into graphs. (Here’s How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work – Jordan Weissmann – The Atlantic.)

This is my favorite-

Here's How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work - Jordan Weissmann - The Atlantic

Does it surprise you that SKILL and LABOR jobs use the highest percentage of “advanced” math? These careers like machinists, electricians, and others that require extensive trade school training are rising in demand as baby boomers retire. (I wrote more about the new role of tech school here – vocational training is coming back and we need to be steering some traditional “college” students in that direction)

Once I went to Mr. Handel’s Northeastern page and downloaded the research Atlantic used for their graphs, I uncovered another layer of the picture that may (or may not) surprise you.

The drop-off from basic to advanced writing between skilled white-collar and blue-collar to unskilled is even more pronounced than with math.

Here are the numbers together.Math AND Writing Comparison

It’s probably not fair to make a direct comparison between the yellow and blue bands in each section of the table, but even in the “more advanced” red band on the math section, those percentages aren’t drastically lower than those of “five pages” yellow band in writing, and for   blue collar, the percentage of math users is HIGHER.

So, tell me, why is our culture not in an uproar over writing formally as they are over “real,” relevant uses of Algebra? Where are all the programs to get kids using math in their liberal arts courses like we have to get kids writing in math and science?

The 21st Century Economy Will Be Urban, High Tech, and Green – Alex Steffen – Harvard Business Review

Cities rose in the beginning of last century to consolidate resources and increase opportunity – according to this article, they’ll rise again in the coming decades for the same reason as the world goes post-automobile.

What impact will this have on education?

I see a shift away from “everyone jump on the school bus in the suburbs and ride to our park-like campus” that is prevalent in the US, but NOT a return to neighborhood, urban schools. As education shifts away from suburbs, the hole will be filled online in virtual schools – some “local,” others distant.

The 21st Century Economy Will Be Urban, High Tech, and Green – Alex Steffen – Harvard Business Review.