"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein
Showing posts with label Curriculum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curriculum. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Teachers in the US View the Common Core

Gallup has recently released the results of a survey that seeks reactions of teachers to the Common Core standards. I am not sure how familiar most teachers in the US are to the writings of Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg but the Gallup findings resonate soundly with what Pasi has to say, for example, in his article "Global Education Reform Is Here". The following are excerpts:
...the Finnish education system has remained quite uninfected to viruses of what is often called the global education reform movement or GERM...

...Since the 1980s, at least five globally common features of education policies and reform principles have been employed to try to improve the quality of education and fix the apparent problems in public education systems. 
First is standardization of education... 
A second common feature of GERM is focus on core subjects in school... 
The third characteristic that is easily identifiable in global education reforms is the search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals...

The fourth globally observable trend in educational reform is use of corporate management models as a main driver of improvement... 
The fifth global trend is adoption of test-based accountability policies for schools....
The following are some of the results of the survey:

There are several objections against the Common Core. The following are among the most common arguments against the new standards. First, when asked whether the Common Core undermines a teacher's autonomy - a significant majority agree:

A lot of teachers also expect the Common Core to be detrimental to other disciplines (arts and music, as well as decrease in recess time):

And as one gets closer to the topic of testing, the opposition becomes stronger. Asked whether the additional testing takes too much time away from teaching, more than three in four teachers agree:

And when students's scores are linked to teachers' evaluation, the response almost becomes unanimous. Teachers overwhelmingly believe that such practice is unfair:

Thus, the "common" in Common Core seems popular. The first characteristic of GERM seems attractive to most teachers. However, the other four seem not palatable....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What to Think and How to Know

Yes, it is the old debate regarding what a classroom needs to focus on: content versus skills. This debate must really stop because it is a false dichotomy. We need both. The much more important discussion is how one relates to the other so that the time spent by a child inside the classroom becomes much more worthwhile. Paul Cancellieri, a middle school science teacher, wrote the following in TeachHub.com:

Above copied from TeachHub.com
"Paring down state science standards in favor of more depth and greater comprehension" does not really mean cutting content. Greater depth also means deeper content. Hence, paring down here implies that the old curriculum is a mile wide but only an inch thick. The volume of content is therefore decided not just by the breadth alone but also the depth. Increasing the depth while decreasing the breadth does not necessarily decrease the volume. In fact, it can get bigger, if we make, for instance, the depth 4 times deeper and the breadth only half as much.

In the discussion of content and skills, it may likewise be useful to find out how each one is acquired. For example, how does a child develop scientific thinking (skills) and how does a child acquire scientific knowledge (content)? The previous article on this blog, "Developing Scientific Thinking" offers a clue. Content seems to be taught while skills are caught. A teacher can provide knowledge then through direct instruction while helping a child develop skills by example.

The main reason why content versus skills is a false dichotomy is the fact that these two are related. Determining the relationship between the two, content and skills, is useful for designing a more effective curriculum. One area that has been recently studied is the relationship between vocabulary (content) and reading comprehension (skill). A paper scheduled to be published in Child Development examines how scores in vocabulary and reading comprehension tests vary with years of instruction. The paper, "Developmental Relations Between Vocabulary Knowledge and Reading Comprehension: A Latent Change Score Modeling Study", has the following abstract:

This is a longitudinal study involving about three hundred students from first to fourth grade in elementary schools in the Leon County School District in Florida. By following the vocabulary and reading comprehension scores of the students through four years of elementary schooling the following possible relationships between vocabulary and reading comprehension can be ascertained:

  • Correlated but uncoupled - In this scenario, children develop both vocabulary and reading comprehension at the same time. Growth in both are correlated but not because one causes the other, but because they both rely on an outside third factor.
  • Unidirectional coupling (Vocabulary to Comprehension) - In this scenario, growth in vocabulary leads to better reading comprehension.
  • Unidirectional coupling (Comprehension to Vocabulary) - In this scenario, better reading comprehension leads to growth in vocabulary.
  • Bidirectional coupling - In this scenario, the two, vocabulary and comprehension, work side by side, causing growth in each other.

And as the above abstract states, this study finds a unidirectional coupling (Vocabulary to Comprehension). The authors conclude, "...this study supports the idea that growth in reading comprehension depends in part on vocabulary knowledge." The authors also make it clear that due to the study's limitations, a bidirectional coupling can not be completely dismissed, but it is certain here that content affects skills, providing us with a strong evidence that content versus skills is truly a useless debate.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Taking "Pygmalion" to an Extreme

Last night, my children were watching an episode of Clarence on CartoonNetwork, "Quill or Crayon". A standardized test was administered and was used to divide a class of students into two groups. Students who scored above average in the test were assigned to the "Quill" group and those who scored below average were placed in the "crayon" group. The "Quill" group was characterized by order and obviously higher academic standards while the "Crayon" group was disorganized and taught by a "not so good" teacher. Jeff, the central character in the show, scored average on the test and was placed in the "Crayon" group. The rest of the episode simply showed the nightmare Jeff had to go through while spending time in the "Crayon" group and, at the same time, continuously longing and insisting to belong instead to the "Quill" group.

Click this link to watch this episode
There is no argument that how and what we teach children can affect their learning. Unfortunately, some have equated the how and what with what we should expect. And that expectation is usually summarized as a set of standards or curriculum. Thereafter, the expectation is believed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is the Pygmalion effect (the higher the standards, the better students would perform) and its corollary, the golem effect  (low expectations lead to a decrease in performance). This way of thinking is illustrated, for instance, in a research paper from the Center for American Progress:

First, the authors of the above paper seem to be quite certain of what studies on the Pygmalion effect actually show. This is incorrect since most of the studies are not conclusive with regard to a causal relationship between expectations and performance. Take, for instance, the study cited at the end of the first paragraph above:
Jennifer Alvidrez and Rhonda S. Weinstein, “Early teacher perceptions and later student academic achievement,” Journal of Educational Psychology 91 (4) (1999): 731–746.
Boser and coworkers are in fact stretching what Alvidrez and Weinstein have found in their research. One simply has to take note of one very important sentence that Alvidrex and Weinstein wrote in their conclusion, "Whether these relationships are prescient or influential cannot be answered by naturalistic studies like this." The fact that the level of expectations correlates with the level of performance does not necessarily mean that increasing expectations will lead to higher performance. Lee Jussim at Education.com writes a more thoughtful and carefully worded summation of the studies on the Pygmalion effect in Teacher Expectations:
First, teachers should take considerable comfort from the empirical evidence which, in contrast to some of the more extreme claims, shows that, in general, expectancy effects are small, fragile, and fleeting, rather than large, pervasive, and enduring. Second, any recommendation suggesting that teachers should simply adopt high expectations for all students would be oversimplified, unworkable, and probably dysfunctional. High expectations can work at raising student achievement, but only if they are backed up with the resources and institutional supports to do so.
Teachers, like other human beings, can learn from experience. Year after year, they spend hundreds of days with their pupils. A teacher becomes much more than just acquainted with his or her students. It is thus incorrect to assume that a teachers' impression of a student has no basis. Of course, some impressions may be wrong, biased or incomplete. For this reason, the correlation is not perfect, but it does not discount the fact that the correlation between expectation and performance is simply due to a valid judgment. We cannot take away from teachers their ability to evaluate their students.

Expectations can indeed be influential, but only as far as how a teacher acts based on these expectations. The effects therefore have to be small especially if one considers the other countless factors that may affect learning. To think that the Common Core is a good standard because it raises expectations is wrong-headed. The strength of the Common Core lies in the fact that states now share the same goals for basic education. A set of standards consistent from state to state helps promote equity in education. Its quality can not be gauged by whether it promotes high or low expectations, but should be gauged in terms of being realistic, practical and appropriate.

One can easily make "sky is the limit" expectations. For instance, why not teach "quantum theory" in first grade of elementary school after teaching calculus in kindergarten? Of course, this is ridiculous. It is neither realistic nor appropriate. Ridiculous, unfortunately, does not necessarily mean that such inappropriate or unrealistic standards do not exist. Wrongly placed high expectations can exist especially when one subscribes to the wrong mantra, Simply raising expectations will lead to better student performance. Sadly, the Philippines' DepEd K+12 curriculum, as pointed out on this blog in a comment, is an example:

Carlo Cruz III has left a new comment on your post "Motivated to Learn Science": 
Hi Sir-
Please read through the EPP curriculum (ICT part) for grade schools and you will be shocked. How can they implement this if most of the schools in the provinces don't have a single computer, or worse electricity?
Link to EPP curriculum 
What Carlos Cruz III points out is that the learning competencies expected from elementary school students are unrealistic. In the new curriculum, grade 4 students are expected:
  • to gather information from web sources by using search engines
  • to use word processors and spreadsheets
  • to write and send, and receive and read electronic mail
  • to draw using graphics software
  • to create documents with publishing tools
At least, posting messages on Facebook will have to wait until Grade 5. Well, Facebook does restrict its membership to individuals who are at least 13 years old. It is really easy to relate to what Carlos Cruz III is saying especially with the following item under the Grade 6 curriculum:

Learning competency 5.1 expects grade 6 pupils to use audio and video conferencing tools to share ideas and with others online. Carlos is right, I am shocked....

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Is Wrong with How We Are Teaching Math?

Although quite a number of people would be quick to respond, the above question is in fact complex and difficult to answer. There is a tendency to dislike one specific algorithm or way to solve a problem, yet some people unknowingly subscribe to one specific way of teaching children how to do math. Some even go as far as teaching so many ways to do math that not subscribing to this diverse set is now viewed as wrong. Rote learning is frowned upon, but now students need to go through mindless and seemingly endless examples of various ways that learning by drill during my time as a grade school student seems like a walk in the park. For instance, here are five ways to add 47 and 35:

Above image copied from Five Ways to Add Multi-digit Whole Numbers

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Case Against a Curriculum

There are various media through which information may be disseminated. Popular press and social media have the widest reach. With regard to very important issues, mass media indeed shoulder a great responsibility. With complicated matters, pundits are necessary to provide expert opinions so that the public could be best informed. Oftentimes, materials that need to be digested by the public are quite voluminous, deep or too complex that the eyes of an expert become indispensable. Reforms are being introduced on education in the US and in the Philippines. Unfortunately, in both cases, the media seem to have failed in informing the public. With a poorly informed public, political strategies are then very much in play. In the Philippines, where politics is still personality based and oligarchic, the media dropping the ball on correctly informing the public about education reforms serves the purpose of keeping everyone in the dark. In the United States, keeping a reform under a low key may initially be beneficial at the first stages, but in the end, backlash will occur if people suddenly discover something very consequential is being imposed without their knowledge. Continuously misinforming the public works very well in an oligarchic society. However, for a bitterly divided and partisan society like the United States, lack of information fuels only further bickering and propaganda from both sides. A midst this predicament, I am not even sure we know what a curriculum is.

In the Philippines, the K+12 curriculum had been introduced. The curriculum change was so extensive that it was completely mind boggling that it managed to pass both houses of legislature without any hitch. The main items in the new curriculum are (1) compulsory kindergarten, (2) two added years at the end of high school, (3) spiral curriculum in math and the sciences, with science being introduced as a formal subject only in the third grade, (4) mother tongue based - multilingual instruction, with reading and writing in English only being introduced in the second grade, and (5) emphasis on the use of inquiry-based learning methods.

This blog has laid out various criticisms of this curriculum in so many posted articles. In addition, there is likewise the question of implementation of a curriculum. This blog has also cited some learning materials and their current low quality. Lessons are indeed the tangible manifestation of a curriculum inside a classroom, but one still must not confuse what needs to be taught against how it is being taught.

Objections to the K+12 curriculum in the Philippines are basically mute. This blog has been one of the few voices and one reason I heard (This one comes from Filipinos with PhD's) is that we should simply trust DepEd since these people know better. There is widespread apathy. One reason behind the lack of engagement is that unlike my peers, I have children who are just beginning formal schooling. The children of my high school classmates, for example, are now finishing college. Unlike my peers, basic education to me is not simply a memory from the past, but an actual scenario on which the future of my own children depends.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Validity of Reading Comprehension Exams

The content of a reading comprehension exam is not necessarily covered by a particular curriculum. Passages are usually provided and these are followed by questions that attempt to assess a student's understanding of the material. The exam is basically testing a student's reading skills. Unfortunately, the performance in such an exam is not independent of the student's experiences, background information, and interests.

For exams tailored by the teachers themselves, it is only proper that the tests reflect the topics covered inside the classrooms. This is not wrong. One must in fact teach to the test since the test is the content of the subject students are studying. "Teaching to the test" sounds awful to many. It is, if the test is a reading comprehension exam. Topics covered in reading comprehension tests can encompass the various disciplines of science, history, classical and contemporary literature, social studies, music, and the arts. Of course, these are the same courses in schools that benefit from reading skills. Teaching for the purpose of a reading comprehension exam steals time away from what students should be learning in the classroom. Thus, placing great emphasis on standardized reading comprehension tests takes over the classroom sacrificing science, literature, history, arts, music, social studies, and even physical education. This is one reason why standardized tests which include reading comprehension must not be high stakes. It must not have serious consequences on both student and teacher. Otherwise, learning in the classroom is compromised.

Maureen Downey wrote an insightful article, "Testing season revs up: March madness leads to April angst" on her blog Get Schooled. She showed the following photograph:

Above photo copied from
"Testing season revs up: March madness leads to April angst"
And her thoughts were:
This particular Georgia Performance Standard aligns with research in English Language Arts. Students demonstrate more sophisticated comprehension of text, more motivation to read, and a broader and deeper knowledge of content when they use prior knowledge (memories) and personal experiences to make sense of the text and relate it to new information. 
But here comes the contradiction. During March Madness, signs like this are posted on school walls. 
In other words, students as young as 8 years old are taught to be perceptive, connection-making readers the first part of the year. Then those same students are told not to use the very skills and practices their teachers have taught them “good readers use” so they can pass a test.
E.D. Hirsch, Jr. also points out that research shows that reading comprehension exams are really not valid. In his blog article, "The Test of the Common Core" in the Huffington Post, Hirsch writes:
The scholarly proponents of the value-added approach have sent me a set of technical studies. My analysis of them showed what anyone immersed in reading research would have predicted: The value-added data are modestly stable for math, but are fuzzy and unreliable for reading. It cannot be otherwise, because of the underlying realities. Math tests are based on the school curriculum. What a teacher does in the math classroom affects student test scores. But reading-comprehension tests are not based on the school curriculum. (How could they be if there's no set curriculum?) Rather, they are based on the general knowledge that students have gained over their life span from all sources -- most of them outside the school. That's why reading tests in the early grades are so reliably and unfairly correlated with parental education and income.

Since the results on reading-comprehension tests are not chiefly based on what a teacher has done in a single school year, why would any sensible person try to judge teacher effectiveness by changes in reading comprehension scores in a single year? The whole project is unfair to teachers, ill-conceived, and educationally disastrous. The teacher-rating scheme has usurped huge amounts of teaching time in anxious test-prep. Paradoxically, the evidence shows that test-prep ceases to be effective after about six lessons. So most of that test-prep time is wasted even as test prep. It's time in which teachers could be calmly pursuing real education -- teaching students fascinating subjects in literature, history, civics, science and the arts, the general knowledge that is the true foundation of improved reading comprehension.
The validity of reading comprehension exams is likewise questioned in China. An article published in the journal Asian Social Science (Vol. 6, No. 12; December 2010, 192-194), "On Reading Tests and Its Validity", authored by Chao Chen from the Foreign Languages School, Qingdao University of Science and Technology, provides seven suggestions on how to write better reading comprehension tests:

  1. Keep specifications constantly in mind and try to select as representative a sample as possible. Do not repeatedly select texts of a particular kind simply because they are readily available.
  2. In order to get acceptable reliability, include as many passages as possible in a test, thereby giving candidates a good number of fresh starts. Considerations of practicality will inevitably impose constraints on this, especially where scanning or skimming is to be tested.
  3. In order to test scanning, look for passages, which contain plenty of discrete pieces of information.
  4. Choose tests which will interest candidates but which will not overexcite or disturb them.
  5. Avoid texts made up of information that may be part of candidates’ general knowledge. It may be difficult not to write items to which correct responses are available to some candidates without reading the passage.
  6. Assuming that it is only reading ability that is being tested, do not choose texts that are too culturally laden.
  7. Do not use texts that students have already read (or even close approximations to them).

Reading carefully each of the above suggestions leads me to one conclusion. Writing a reading comprehension is perhaps an exercise in futility. We therefore should not be using such an exam as a basis when making decisions on school closings, teachers' bonuses, and students' retention.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Issues Other than Learning

Education does focus on learning of students. Resources, however, introduce additional issues to contend when reforming education. Resources used for teaching are created by people. This creativity comes with a price and a tag "All Rights Reserved":
Photo Credit: Compfight

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fordham Institute's Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

The New Science Standards drafted for US K-12 public schools did not earn high marks from the Fordham Institute. The following figure summarizes where the Institute thinks the new standards stand in comparison with science curricula currently implemented in the various states:


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Music and Reading

Take for example the two English words "dessert" (something sweet one eats after a meal) and "desert" (an arid land), there is really nothing significantly different in the way these two words are normally written down except for the fact that one word has two s's. However, when correctly pronounced the two words are easily distinguishable. Here lies one difference between oral and written language. Variations in syllable length, loudness and pitch constitute the prosodics of a language. With the Tagalog language, one can cite "mahaba" (long) and mahabag (have mercy). Since the meaning of a word depends on how it is articulated, stressed or intoned, reading accuracy involves correct pronunciation. A recent study published in the Journal of Research in Reading, "The effects of musical training on the decoding skills of German-speaking primary school children" demonstrates that music training helps in reading accuracy:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Elementary School in Pictures

Pictures do speak louder than words. Here are some photographs shared by Ibaba Elementary School, a school in the town of Paete, Laguna, Philippines. These are photos shared with the public in the Facebook page of the school. Captions are from the original posts.

Pagpapadighay, pagpapaligo at pagbibihis sa sanggol...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Introducing a New Curriculum

With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the United States, it may be worthwhile for the Philippines to examine and observe how a new curriculum is implemented. The changes in the United States public school education are not as dramatic as the Philippines DepEd's K to 12. CCSS involves new standards for mathematics and english language arts. On the other hand, the new curriculum in the Philippines includes addition of kindergarten plus two years at the end of high school, mother tongue based - multilingual education, and a spiral curriculum for both math and science. CCSS is therefore so much smaller and yet, the discussions and consultations are wider and deeper in participation. When the draft of CCSS was made public back in March 2010, nearly 10,000 people provided feedback (half were K-12 teachers). And after almost three years, the discussion continues. Recently, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, with support from the Hewlett Foundation, published a survey of K-12 teachers' views on the new CCSS:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Physical Activity and Physical Education in Schools

In evaluating the curriculum for primary schools, it is important to examine what children are in fact doing inside the school. That is why it is useful to look at a child's schedule of classes. This goes far beyond the sound bites we hear from education policy makers or reformers. The class schedule showing the time allotment for each subject is highly informative, providing a dimension one does not see by simply browsing through a list of content standards or a curriculum. 

From "Recess as a Favorite Subject May Sound Funny, But Seriously, It Is Important": With the oral fluency in English added in the second half of the year, the total instructional time per day is 240 minutes or 4 hours. This information can then be combined with the following schedule found in schools that employ triple shifts:
It's shortly after dawn, but the youngest pupils in overcrowded Ilugin Elementary School in Pasig City are already in class. Ilugin's grade one students are part of the first shift in a school that needs to schedule classroom use in three shifts to accommodate all 1,800 of its students. The first shift begins at 6 a.m., ending at 10 a.m., while the last shift starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m. - GMA News report:
Each shift is four hours long. Of course, a 12-hour day can only be divided into three 4-hour shifts with no breaks between them. Physical Education is part of MAPEH, so students probably go through some physical exercise once every four days since MAPEH rotates around music, arts, physical education, and health. Not only does the new curriculum excludes science, and reading and writing in English, it does exclude Recess.

The situation in the United States is equally disturbing because of the current emphasis on standardized tests which focus on reading and mathematics. With funding and bonuses tied to the performance of students in these subjects, schools are neglecting the other subjects including physical activity and physical education. Yes, recess gets the cut because students need to sit on their desks longer doing additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions. With social media especially Facebook, text messaging, and video games, the time allotted for medium and vigorous physical activity is indeed dwindling.

For this reason, the Institute of Medicine in the United States has recently raised its voice against the decreasing amount of time given to physical activity and physical education in US schools. The following is a video from the institute:

Among the recommendations of the institute are the following:
School districts should provide high-quality curricular physical education during which the students should spend at least half (> 50 percent) of the class-time engaged in vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity. All elementary school students should spend an average of 30 minutes per day and all middle and high school students an average of 45 minutes per day in physical education class. To allow for flexibility in curriculum scheduling, this recommendation is equivalent to 150 minutes per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.
Students should engage in additional vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the school day through recess, dedicated classroom physical activity time, and other opportunities.
Additional opportunities for physical activity before and after school hours, including but not limited to active transport, before- and after-school programming, and intramural and extramural sports, should be made accessible to all students.
The Institute of Medicine also adds:
A growing body of evidence also suggests a relationship between vigorous and moderate intensity physical activity and the structure and functioning of the brain. Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active. Of course, academic performance is influenced by other factors as well, such as parental involvement and socioeconomic status. Nevertheless, ensuring that children and adolescents achieve at least the recommended amount of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity may well improve overall academic performance.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Brain-Targeted Teaching

Science teaches in so many ways. Research informs. With the findings provided by neuroscience research, the question is how to apply these studies to improve learning. Dr. Mariale Hardiman, co-founder and director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Neuro-Education Initiative, has been working over the past decade to connect brain research with effective teaching. Her model is called "Brain-Targeted Teaching:®  A Comprehensive Model for Classroom Instruction and School Reform", illustrated in the following figure:

Above figure downloaded from http://braintargetedteaching.org/index.cfm
To help explain the above six targets, several examples of lessons have been provided by Hardiman on the BrainTargetedTeaching website. One example is for first grade students, submitted by Alysson Eno, "Where We Are in Place and Time". 

Lesson: Different Landforms

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation

The first brain target, emotional climate, requires helping the students establish ownership of the material that they are learning. This begins, however, with clear instructions or procedures. Students are given choices to develop a sense of ownership, but the choices are well-defined. Students are not finding their way in the dark. As seen in the background information provided by the above figure, there are various landforms and a student can choose from these for further exploration. This establishes ownership.

The second brain target, physical environment, deals with what a teacher must do to keep the lesson alive and interesting to the students. Watching a video or listening to music, which in some way is related to the lesson, helps. Eno does both with the following video:

The third target, learning design, ensures that students are aware of the "big idea" behind the lesson. It involves recognizing what the students already know after each day and constantly asking what students want to find out more. This part requires first of all that the teacher finds out where the students currently are. The following is an example of a drawing that a first grade student made, which helps inform the teacher of what the student currently knows regarding this lesson:

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation
Each student also diligently writes down every new piece of information he or she has learned throughout the lesson.

The fourth target, teaching for mastery, requires exploration or deeper inquiry into the subject matter. In this particular lesson, students browse through the internet, looking for various landforms from various places around the world:

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation
With GoogleMap, one can indeed browse through different places, with different pictures. Eno even found a song that matches this lesson from the web (http://www.totally3rdgrade.com/Audio/W_landforms.mp3):
And there is a site that provides videos that are appropriate for this lesson:
The fifth target, application, allows students to extend what they have just learned. The learning activity suitable for this particular lesson is students creating models to represent what they have just learned. Children can easily make models of volcanoes, mountains, hills, desert and other landforms.

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation
The last target, assessment, allows for students to see how much they have learned. This can happen by simply allowing each student to see each other's work, notes, models. One important note is that such evaluation must be done regularly and frequently. Feedback received after a substantial amount of time has passed is similar to reprimanding a toddler for something he or she has done several days ago. This delayed feedback does not help.

Thus, the question, does this strategy work? Peter J Bertucci of Johnson & Wales University did his dissertation on evaluating this teaching model. The following is the abstract of his thesis:

A mixed-method study of a brain-compatible education program of grades K--5 in a Mid-Atlantic inner-city public elementary/middle school


Interdisciplinary research advances have fostered theoretical conceptualizations of brain-compatible practice that promotes neurological changes. As unaligned practices are questioned, skeptics warn brain research is being misinterpreted. Valid brain and learning data are needed. The primary research question of this study was: How can best educational practices supported by neuroscientific research be separated from overstatement of educational applicability?A mixed method research design qualitatively prioritized an explanatory critical case study of the phenomenon, brain-compatible education. A single case type II design with embedded analytical units was employed (Yin, 2002). A brain-compatible program at a Mid-Atlantic inner-city elementary/middle school was studied. The embedded units were staff perceptions of the program and associated student outcomes. The theoretical proposition was the program was implemented to improve teaching and learning by taking advantage of how the brain learns. Data collection included document analysis, observation, interviewing, and surveying. The Stufflebeam program evaluation assessment model was used to evaluate the program (Madaus, Scriven, & Stufflebeam, 1983). Participating teachers were purposefully selected program practitioners from grades K-5. Five of those participants were randomly selected for observation. The principal, arts integration specialist, curriculum specialist, and observed teachers were interviewed and fifteen remaining program practitioners self-administered surveys. Qualitative data were analyzed utilizing content analysis, pattern matching, and thematic coding. The quantitative ex post facto component descriptively compared 2003 through 2005 grade 5 study site state assessments, advanced aggregate and subgroup performance, in reading and mathematics to a similar in-district school and the state respectively. No causal representations were offered.  The findings suggest innovation requires integrative research utility. Further, it was found that, combining charismatic leadership, voluntary staff participation, a shared vision, adequate resources, and community involvement fosters educational change. Moreover, brain-compatibility requires a positive emotional climate and interactive teaching to engage students and promote deeper learning. Positive state assessment trends were described in mathematics and reading. This research assists educators in refining practice through brain-compatible alignment, presents conditions for innovation, provides a case for multiple-analysis, and adds to the extant data base. Recommendations from this study propose brain-compatibility advocacy and enhanced educator training around research, the brain and learning, and cognition. Future research should investigate other variables within the program, additional in context brain-compatible programs, emotional learning climates, and early brain-compatible intervention.

Dr. Mariale Hardiman nicely summarizes Bertucci's findings through the following graphs:

Maryland School Assessment Scores for Advanced Level of Reading: Comparison of Aggregate Scores for State, Control School, and Study Site

Maryland School Assessment Scores for Advanced Level of Reading for Students Receiving Free and Reduced Meals: Scores for State, Control School, and Study Site

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spiral Curriculum: When and How? Redundant versus Progressive?

Republic Act 10533 of the Philippines, otherwise known as the "Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013", not only adds two years to basic education and reiterates universal kindergarten, but also prescribes the standards and guidelines the Department of Education must follow in developing curriculum. One item under this prescription is:
"The curriculum shall use the spiral progression approach to ensure mastery of knowledge and skills after each level."
The following is an example taken from a presentation given by Merle Tan, illustrating how chemistry is integrated into the new DepEd K+12 curriculum:

In the same presentation, it is also mentioned that "Science curriculum framework of high performing countries (Australia, Brunei, England, Finland, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, USA (3 states)) follow a spiral progression and integrated approach at least up to G9". The presentation, however, fails to cite that in Singapore, for example, "Teachers for early grades are trained and teach in either math and science or in languages and social studies, not all subjects." (Schools in Singapore may provide lessons for educators here, Cleveland.com). The presentation also does not mention the following observation highlighted by the US National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators 2002:
Analyses conducted in conjunction with TIMSS (Schmidt, McKnight, and Raizen 1997) documented that curriculum guides in the United States include more topics than is the international norm. Most other countries focus on a limited number of topics, and each topic is generally completed before a new one is introduced. In contrast, U.S. curriculums follow a "spiral" approach: topics are introduced in an elemental form in the early grades, then elaborated and extended in subsequent grades. One result of this is that U.S. curriculums are quite repetitive, because the same topic appears and reappears at several different grades. Another result is that topics are not presented in any great depth, giving the U.S. curriculum the appearance of being unfocused and shallow.
The above is summarized in the following figure:

The spiral curriculum is in fact viewed as one of the problems of basic education in the United States. This is likewise emphasized in a study on curriculum coherence (J. CURRICULUM STUDIES, 2005, VOL. 37, NO. 5, 525–559) where the following table (for the physical sciences), illustrating coherence in curriculum in the top performing countries (Singapore, the Czech Republic, Japan, and Korea) and the lack thereof in the United States, is presented:

In the above table, the topics covered by curriculum in the top performing countries are enclosed. The US curriculum is redundant while those of the top performing countries are coherent. Comparing the chemistry curriculum of the top performing countries against the Philippines' DepEd K+12 curriculum, it is clear that countries like Singapore are already teaching atoms, ions and molecules to Grade 7 students, which makes sense since these are the fundamental concepts of chemistry.

To understand the very important yet subtle considerations behind designing a spiral curriculum, excerpts from the following book by Cathy Seeley may be of assistance:


Spiral curriculum, when and how? These are in fact very important questions which can easily decide whether a curriculum will succeed or fail. First, for most countries including the top performing ones, the spiral curriculum is only applied up to middle school (Grade 8). The international exam, TIMSS, is given to students in Grades 4 and 8. Students from the US are only average among developed countries in the Grade 8 exam, suggesting that problems lie mainly in the later elementary years and middle school. In the top performing countries, the foundations of physics (forces, time, space and motion) are first introduced in Grade 5, while the fundamental building blocks of chemical knowledge (atoms, molecules and ions) are taught in Grade 7.  Although these topics are likewise covered in the US curriculum, a little bit about everything is also presented to children during these years. The US curriculum is quite diffused. The top performing countries pay attention to coherence in the curriculum. Perhaps, this is the reasoning behind less breadth. These countries choose to emphasize instead depth in the foundations of these science disciplines. Along this line, the sequence is very important. Chemistry is taught first with atoms, molecules and ions. This is one major characteristic that is lacking in the Philippines' DepEd K+12 curriculum.

Another significant difference between the science curriculum in DepEd's K+12 and those of the top performing countries is the obvious fact that the Philippines curriculum is two years behind. The integrated science approach adopted by the US and other countries stops at the end of middle school (Grade 8) while the Philippines expects to achieve this only at the end of Grade 10.

These differences between curricula of countries, however big, may still not be the explanation behind student learning outcomes. Human learning requires steps. We learn to walk before we run. Coherence in curriculum is therefore a must. Coherence in a curriculum can be a given with instructors who are specialized to teach a particular subject. A teacher who has an education degree specializing in chemistry, with or without a curriculum, would know what to teach first. This, in fact, is one major difference between teachers in Singapore and those in the United States. Teachers in Singapore, even in the elementary years, are subject experts. Teaching science in an integrated approach requires specific training. Drawing a curriculum that recognizes the hierarchical nature of topics within a discipline not only provides the conditions helpful to learning, but also facilitates the required teaching abilities. A spiral curriculum that deals with a mile wide range of topics on various disciplines requires too much from any teacher. A spiral progression approach must consider the resources available. There is no point in introducing a curriculum that cannot be possibly implemented correctly. There is wisdom in "Less is More"....

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reading Achievement at Age 7 Is Strongly Linked to Adult Socioeconomic Status

Public school teachers in the Philippines are indeed worried about the new DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. As one comment I have read on Facebook says, "...There is no reading in grade one. What will happen to our pupils when they go to grade 2. All they could do right now is to express their ideas by speaking and singing. Is this not the same as kindergarten? Formal lessons in reading start only in grade 2... I really do not know where this new DepEd K to 12 curriculum will lead us. As they say, it is already here so we might as well embrace and do everything we can...." This comment agrees with what social news network Rappler reports regarding the first grade curriculum of DepEd's K to 12.  "Grade 1 students will be taking up 6 subjects for an entire school year. Each subject will be taught for a maximum of 40 minutes per day:

  • Reading and Writing in the Mother Tongue - 40 minutes
  • Oral Fluency in Filipino - 40 minutes
  • Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao (EsP) - 30 minutes
  • Mathematics or Arithmetic - 30 minutes
  • Araling Panlipunan (AP) - 30 minutes
  • Music, Arts, Physical Education, Health (MAPEH) - 30 minutes 
When the second half of the school year comes, a 7th subject, Oral Fluency in English, will be introduced. This subject will be taught for 40 minutes." 

The first grade curriculum in language is very different from the past because of the introduction of the mother tongue(MT)-based instruction:

The above figure, screen captured from

Isagani Cruz attempts again to explain DepEd's K to 12 curriculum in his column in the Philippine Star:
If they go to a Philippine public school, Pedro, Pablo, and Maria will know how to read only at the end of Grade 1 (fulfilling President Aquino’s promise of “Every child a reader by Grade 1”). If they go to a private pre-school, they will most likely be already reading and writing letters or even simple words before they get to Kindergarten. The gap between public and private schools is one of the reasons parents with ample means send their children to private schools.
The above paragraph of Cruz does not agree with the teacher's comment I quoted above. It likewise contradicts the schedule prescribed by DepEd. First grade students as prescribed by DepEd's curriculum are not taught how to read in English. The teacher is thus correct. Cruz, on the other hand, is talking about "being able to read by Grade 1", but only in the mother tongue. Of course, there is the question of what reading materials are currently available in the mother tongue. Without any materials to read, education in the mother tongue is likewise confined to oral fluency. Thus, the comment, "All they could do right now is to express their ideas by speaking and singing", is perhaps closer to what is true.

Reading is essential for learning and mathematics is required for developing thinking skills. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science demonstrates a strong correlation between a child's ability to read and do math at age 7 and socioeconomic status 35 years later. The article, "Enduring Links From Childhood Mathematics and Reading Achievement to Adult Socioeconomic Status", is based on a longitudinal study that followed more than 17000 people from the year 1965.

 Chad Brooks of Business News Daily describes the findings of the above study in simpler terms:
"If you want to see which kids will grow up to be the most successful adults, visit their second-grade classroom, new research suggests... ...The researchers found that participants who had higher reading and math skills as children ended up having higher incomes, better housing and better jobs in adulthood. The data found, for example, that going up one reading level at age 7 was associated with a $7,750 increase in income at age 42. 
"These findings imply that basic childhood skills, independent of how smart you are, how long you stay in school, or the social class you started off in, will be important throughout your life," said the study's authors, Stuart Ritchie and Timothy Bates.
A longitudinal study spanning more than three decades such as this one is especially rare. Its major finding that early childhood skills in both reading and mathematics should not be ignored. Unfortunately, DepEd's K to 12 fails to learn from these very important life lessons.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Coherence and Knowledge in Basic Education

Acquisition of skills is overemphasized in education to the detriment of accumulating knowledge. A brand new computer with a fast processor is certainly nice, but without data to work with, the computer is still not useful. How an individual performs in society not only depends on what this person knows what to do, but as important, on what this person knows. Excellent physicians, for example, are those who could correctly diagnose an illness and provide the appropriate prescription or treatment. This ability does not come out of a vacuum of know-how alone, but as crucial, from a vast array of experience and knowledge. There is certainly a huge amount of facts out there and obviously, one human mind cannot absorb all of it. Thus, it is tempting to think that basic education simply has to equip the learner with the capacity to learn, often neglecting to teach the student something. It is a grave error to assume that skills are apart from knowledge. Basic education must strive to impart knowledge to the students and the fact that this is a gigantic task only means that such attempt must be coherent and not fragmented.

There is a recent article by Isagani Ong in the Philippine Star that boasts of some of the features of the new basic education curriculum recently signed into law by Philippine president Aquino. In the article, Ong talks about the spiral approach:
"Whether science is explicitly or implicitly taught, however, it will be taught in a spiral manner. That means that, as early as Grade 1, physics, statistics, and so on will be taught, but in such a small dose that pupils and parents will not even know that these are in the curriculum. In Grade 2, exactly the same topics will be taught, but on a little bit deeper level. Every grade level, the same topics will be tackled, but always from a broader or deeper perspective, until by the end of Grade 12, students will have such a sophisticated grasp of science that they will be ready for the research demanded by higher education."
A spiral curriculum easily lends to a fragmented approach to learning. For coherence, it is important that a learner is given the opportunity to get immersed in the subject. This is only possible if students are provided long enough time to familiarize and focus. Small doses and switching frequently between unrelated topics put so much burden on one's brain especially on children. Learning requires "working memory", which is not as large as one's total memory. "Working memory" is that part of the brain that helps on tasks currently at hand. Its capacity is quite limited that with incoherence, it cannot properly function. In a spiral curriculum, it is highly likely that students will get stuck at the lower levels of each domain and each year will simply be a repeat of previous lessons.

Opposite to Ong's vision of education, Dr. Rebecca Keller, who has a Ph.D. degree in biochemistry, thinks that children should be given enough time to absorb the material being taught. This actually requires depth, not breadth. Keller has developed a science curriculum for home-schooled children in the United States. One example is a semester-long lesson in chemistry designed for first graders:

Above figure captured from Elementary School Chemistry
Overemphasizing skills and neglecting knowledge truly denies how a child learns. Cognitive skills are not acquired without context. Even with entertainment, one does not cycle through different movies. Instead, one watches a movie from beginning to end. With numerous cable channels, the best way to get nothing at all is to keep surfing through channels. Yet, this wasteful exercise is likewise being applied to basic education.

When a child enters kindergarten for the first time, it is only expected that children will have different starting skills, backgrounds and experiences. There are gaps right at the beginning of schooling. These gaps will only further widen if schools do not pay attention to its major purpose of imparting knowledge. Children of parents who did not finish secondary education are less likely to learn science at home. Therefore, if schools do not perform its job of teaching science, no one will fulfill this obligation. Children go through a smorgasbord of lessons outside school. Having a similar approach in school hence denies a child a systematic, structured and coherent education.

In the Winter 2013 issue of the City Journal, E.D. Hirsch, Jr. wrote an article, "A Wealth of Words". A founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., has always emphasized the importance of content in education. In this article, strong correlations between vocabulary and achievement are highlighted. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. then proceeds on how a student develops and widens his or her vocabulary. In developing a vocabulary, reading a dictionary or a word list are neither efficient nor inviting ways to go. Instead, making connections often facilitates correct guessing of what new words may mean. The context is important. The subject brings life to the words and only in immersion, does one really enrich vocabulary, for the simple reason that vocabulary is in fact knowledge. I truly enjoy reading articles by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and I encourage you to read this one. The following paragraphs are especially important:
...To make the necessary school changes in the United States, an intellectual revolution needs to occur to undo the vast anti-intellectual revolution that took place in the 1930s. We can’t afford to victimize ourselves further by continued loyalty to outworn and mistaken ideas. Of these, the idea that most requires overturning is how-to-ism—the notion that schooling should concern itself not with mere factual knowledge, which is constantly changing, but rather with giving students the intellectual tools to assimilate new knowledge. These tools typically include the ability to look things up, to think critically, and to accommodate oneself flexibly to the world of the unknowable future. 
How-to-ism has failed because of its fundamental misconception of skills, which considers them analogous to automated processes, such as making a free throw in basketball....

Friday, May 3, 2013

Education Reforms: Resistance to Change Or Is It Something Deeper?

Not everything new is good. Simply using the word "reform" does not guarantee an improvement. Resistance to change, on the other hand, cannot be taken simply as stubbornly being tied to old ways. Conservatism has a place in the list of human virtues. After all, why fix something that is not broken? And just because something is broken, it does not mean that any fix will do. Some measures can in fact make matters worse. This is especially true for a system as complex as education. Reforms can look very good on paper but dreaming about it is only one tiny step in the entire process. Implementation is the major consequential part. The mere fact that there are so many education reforms languishing in dust bins demonstrates that a majority of these initiatives are failures. Yet, education reformers and pundits in general often think that solutions are straightforward, frequently reducing what happens inside the classroom into catchy phrases and sound bites.

Developing a textbook in any subject is already a major undertaking. Composing a textbook alone already draws so much from the labor of others. Proofreading and review take time. Even with thoughtful and careful, examinations, errors may still be missed. At this point, students are not yet using the textbook. After the textbook has been finished, this normally does not automatically transfer into a student's brain via osmosis. Usually, when teachers choose a text to use, they are already familiar with the material. New textbooks require time from teachers. Teachers have to evaluate the text and see if it fits in the design of the course. If not, the course may need to be adjusted or a different textbook may be sought. Once the decision is made to adopt a textbook, more work still needs to be done. This is where implementation really begins. Assessment is necessary to check if the change leads to an improvement. During this time, a teacher must consider closely how the new thing is affecting learning, make some adjustments if necessary to make things work better, or in some cases, find fatal flaws so that the change is abandoned before it causes further harm. Imagine, this is only about a textbook.

The Philippines' DepEd's K to 12 reform is a behemoth. Compared to reforms in other countries, the K to 12 reform is gigantic in scope. Adding years, changing the sequence of subjects, dictating what medium of instruction should be used, and defining the standards and curriculum are all combined in one big package. Each one of these is really a major reform. Each one requires careful examination, testing and evaluation. Yet, these are all being implemented in one quick blow. In the United States, there is currently a major reform in education that is being implemented. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards. This is not yet a curriculum, but only a list of expectations for K-12 education in the United States. A draft of these standards was made public in March 2010. Recognizing that several decades have passed since the United States realized that something must be done with K-12 education and the fact that so many education initiatives have failed to deliver the promised results, the Common Core State Standards have taken more time to brew. Learning from experience is key. One must not make the same mistakes over and over. There are important lessons to be learned. In this light, it is helpful to listen to an inspiring talk given by the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randu Weingarten:

The following is a good wake-up call to all education policy makers:
"...The fact that the changes are being made nationwide without anything close to the adequate preparation is a failure of leadership. It's a sign of a broken accountability system and worse, it is an abdication  of our moral responsibility to kids particularly poor kids... 
...When students complete only a small fraction of the tasks required of them they get a failing grade. When officials responsible for implementing failed to do what's required of them, its students, its schools, its teachers who pay the price...."

Friday, April 12, 2013

United States' Next Generation Science Standards

No, it is not a new series in Star Trek. These are the new K-12 content standards for the sciences drafted by a committee composed of Nobel laureates, members of the National Research Council, science education researchers, and standards and policy experts, which carry the same objective as the Mathematics and English Language Arts Common Core standards:

However, dissimilar to the Math and English Core Standards, only twenty six states are behind these new standards. Of these 26 states, only 21 are seriously considering adopting the standards. There are topics contained in the new standards that maybe considered as controversial by some. There is a disciplinary core idea (DCI), for example, called "Earth and Human Activity", to be introduced as early as third grade. Along this line, global climate change is expected to be taught in middle school. With the substantial number of Americans objecting to climate change, one could only expect some opposition to these new standards.

The following table lists the disciplinary core ideas included in the new set of standards:

Copied from Next Generation Science Standards (Structure)
Unlike in the middle and high school sections of the standards, the standards are described specifically at each grade level in kindergarten and elementary. It is worthwhile to point out what science education is at these early years as recommended by these new standards. The following are the story lines for kindergarten and grades 1 and 2:

(The following are copied from the "DCI Arrangements of the Next Generation Science Standards")

It has taken about three years to develop this document which can be downloaded from the web site: "The Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States". So, now that the standards are out, what is next? Erik Robelen writes in Education Week ("Common Science Standards Make Formal Debut"):
There is no sign, however, that the Obama administration will provide any incentives, or pressure, for states to adopt the new science standards. Many advocates for the standards have previously said they would prefer that the Obama administration not do so. 
In a recent interview with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was asked about the common science standards and seemed to suggest such action by his department was not likely. 
“There’s a growing recognition among states that having everyone do this in isolation doesn’t make sense,” he said. “If these are good, strong standards, I think there will be significant interest out there without us needing to do a lot.”
A comment on the article in Education Week, notably since it is coming apparently from an education reformer, Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas, catches my attention: "Wouldn't it be useful to get the informed opinions of some real (and independent) scientists on these science standards? Why is it that all we hear from are "policy makers" and department of education staff?"

So far, these are just the standards. It is up to the states that will adopt these standards to draw and design the curriculum. As a scientist, I am thrilled that people are paying attention on how science is taught in basic education. It is a far much better than seeing politicians or policy makers remove the subject from the early grades.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Project Based Learning Over Testing, Depth versus Breadth

Program: PBS NewsHour
Episode: School District Uses Project Based Learning Over Testing

A public school district in Danville, Ky., has turned its emphasis away from traditional testing in order to encourage creativity and let students learn by doing. NewsHour special correspondent for education John Merrow reports on "deep learning," and how it requires commitment from educators, students and parents.