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Showing posts from November, 2015

Tinkering Around the Edges Isn't Sufficient for Significant Improvement in Our Schools

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       There's a joke among some educators that says if a child doesn't understand the lesson, then we will just say it again slower and louder.

       It's not a funny joke.  In fact its really sort of a put down to teachers who struggle to help students to learn.  If the teacher presented the lesson in the best way he knows how, then he may not know of another way to present the lesson and (so) when a students doesn't get it, he just repeats the same thing (sometimes slower and louder).  This usually does not help the student to learn any better than the first time, but it does lead to frustration for both the student and the teacher.

       These situations are far too common in our nation's classrooms today.  Improving these situations is haphazard at best.  Sometimes some students try harder; sometimes some teachers try different strategies.  But most of the time, instructional change is small (or absent) and academic results remain the same.

       Still, this…

It's Time for Our Schools to Leave the 20th Century

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       You know the old joke about Rip Van Winkle and schools?  He falls asleep for a hundred years and upon waking up he sees everything he used to know has changed dramatically.  The houses look so different.  The clothes that people wear are very different.  And the cars...wow.  Then he finds a school and walks inside.  He goes into a classroom and he is comforted to see that schools and classrooms haven't changed a bit.

       We educators don't think this is very funny.

       In fact, it is embarrassing for us carry out the important work of education today in the same way that we did this work 50 or 30 or even 20 years ago.  Doing so ignores the research about learning that has been done over the past few decades.  It ignores the research about how the brain reacts to the stimuli that occurs in classrooms.

       For instance, we know that most students can't learn to the best of their ability strictly by sitting in class for a whole class period and listening to th…

Improving Education is Harder than Going to the Moon

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       I often hear people say, "We have been able to send men to the moon.  Why can't we improve education?"  The implication, of course, is that the effort to send people to the moon is certainly more difficult than educating children.  So if we could do that, why can't we accomplish this--much easier--task?

       I would contend that improving education for all students is much more difficult than--the extremely complex of task of--sending people to the moon because (even today) educators are dealing with many more "unknowns" than NASA had in 1969.

       I doubt that anyone at Mission Control watched the Apollo capsule heading toward the moon thinking, "I'd say that we have a 20% chance of missing the moon by a hundred thousand miles."  They knew how far away the moon was; they knew the amount of force needed to break out of the earth's atmosphere; they knew how much food the astronauts needed.  It was certainly a complex task.  Mista…

Group work is a Necessity for Students

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       Our school district recently had an essay contest in which students were asked to describe their Ideal Math Class.  Submissions came in from students in grades 4 to 12.  Nearly every student said that they wanted to work in groups for at least a portion of the class time.  Students want to have the opportunity to ask each other questions and to share their ideas with a small group of peers.


       In fact, the benefits of group work in the classroom are well known.  The Center for Innovation in the Research and Teaching has compiled the following list of benefits of group work:


Students able to take ownership of the subject matter.Students develop communication and teamwork skills.Content is reinforced as students work together and "teach" each other.  This improves understanding through additional discussion and explanation.Content may be broken down into parts.  This allows students to tackle larger and more complex problems and assignments than they would be able to…

Crack the Code of Learning

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       How does a teacher enable students to learn?  How do students learn?  How do people learn?  Teachers who seek to reach their students struggle with these questions all of the time.  Experience (and research) tell us that students learn differently.  When we teach a lesson to 30 students; some get it right away, some get part of it, some don't get it at all.  How is that possible?  All of the students heard the same lesson; yet not all of the students had the same level of "Learning".

       This can lead to a difficult and awkward situation in which the teacher feels offended that the his or her efforts went to naught; and the student feels embarrassed that he or she wasn't able to learn as well as other students.  Our best teachers understand that all students don't learn in the same way and (so) they try to find different ways to present information.  They present is verbally; they present it visibly on a whiteboard on a screen; they use videos; they ha…