Added Value Scores Debunked

A Review of Xtranormal is due. In the meantime, here is a little teaser of what can be done with this powerful tool:


In the spirit of Anonymous: Expect US!


Extra, extra, READ all about it!

If ever you’ve educated the young and have tried to impart the joyous importance of reading you know that while even Sisyphus might empathize with you, he does not envy you.

Why Reading Mattersa documentary by science writer Rita Carter, explores the effects of reading on the evolved brain and if multimedia, specifically video games,threatens those evolutionary gains thus far.  Despite not being programmed to read, she explains, when we do, it exercises and strengthens our ability to empathize with the characters of a novel and learn from their past mistakes in order to apply those lessons to real life.  Some scientists argue that video games, in particular, do not exercise the brain enough in that way due to their lack of content.  Though the evidence is inconclusive, I agree; while video games exercise other brain functions like eye hand coordination they do not exercise empathy enough. Even the collaborative qualities of mission-based, multi-player videos games do not develop the narrative and character enough to give us the empathy the real world is so desperate for us to learn.  What do you think?  Does digital media threaten the evolutionary benefits of reading?

For English Language Learners, their educators, and parents this documentary explains why for them practicing reading is even more crucial to academic development.  In part 2 of 6, minute 5, Professor of Education Usha Goswami at Cambridge University validates what most of us who learn English as a Second Language have known all along: English is much harder to learn than any other language!  She asserts that English is so hard that our brains must develop a whole different system to support this function than when we learn any other language.  For educators this is huge, science validates the frustrations of our students trying to learn content and English at the same time.  It is huge for them to know that there is nothing wrong with them nor with us trying to lead them down this rabbit whole.

Engage Your Student’s Brain with Dopamine

Reluctance is only one of the words that comes to many a teacher’s mind when thinking about letting students play video games in class. After all, video games ruin your brain, so they say. They turn you into passive, drooling vegetables and will ultimately ruin your grades and your life and nobody will ever want you.

But seriously, the idea that video games can be a beneficial and engaging tools in a classroom  no longer seems as controversial as before. Millions of students around the globe have learned their times tables by shooting rockets  at asteroids,  or learned their spelling words by guiding a frog across a river of drifting logs, or gone on web quests around the world collecting artifacts,  and learned a multitude of skills without even realizing they were learning,  simply by playing video games.

Recent studies have found that what makes video games so addicting and so engaging can also help in making learning irresistible.  The brain, according to Tom Chatfield in this TED Talk,  is rewarded  when put in a game environment. Those rewards are intrinsic in our chemistry, and if we as educators can learn how to tap into those veins, we can make students into learning junkies.

It all has to do with dopamine and how the brain craves more of something it finds rewarding.

Watch the video to find out the 7 ways in which video game architecture can be used to engage students, as I don’t want to repeat what he says. However the ideas he advances should be taken very seriously by todays education gurus. Here are a few points that I think could be furthered developed:

Experience Points

Current assessment models that track student progress are known for being obtuse and non-immediate. A student report card is usually a collection of grades weighed with different considerations in mind like homework, test results, effort, etc.  They are mere summaries of a grading period and especially in the elementary grades, provide very little feedback.  Instead, students academic progress should be measured by experience points, starting in Kindergarten and ending at graduation. These records could follow a student throughout her or his educational career and would provide a greater motivation than simply getting an A here and a B there, year after year. It would make learning into a cohesive continuum in which students move at different speeds and accumulate points as they move through life.  Furthermore, a student would not be limited to gaining these points by attending a particular school  or completing a regular course, but in theory they could accumulate them through other means, as long as they prove they master the essential steps (in our case academic standards). They could learn from home, or accrue more points though real life learning situations. A whole variety of programs and curriculum would exist to permit students to play and gain points though video games, simulations, brick-and-mortar learning,  digital portfolio evaluations, and even peer review.


Learning Missions

Chatfield mentions that engagement is greater when there are mini-missions to complete. Huge tasks are overwhelming, but smaller, more manageable ones are a lot more fun and will give the brain a better “high” in the end. These mini missions would essentially replace the typical lesson.

“Today, class we will work on dividing decimals by two digit whole numbers. Take your textbook and turn to page 89!”


“Today we will see how well you can use conjunctions in a sentence with correct punctuation. Open you practice books and try not to fall asleep.”

Quotes like the ones above will hopefully be a  thing of the past one day.

“Today we are going to play a game with some students in Singapore who are challenging our class to divide decimals in order to escape a labyrinth they made! Make teams of five and log on to…”

This example shows how students could complete a quest as part of a team (this part is key) and move through to the next level only if they problem solve and use the skills above. They could complete the mission at home on the Wii, or on their mobile device, in the learning lab, or in their portable holographic projector while they run on their treadmill. (Hey, learning does not mean sitting on your butt).

In fact a student could go on a hunt and take pictures, video, and gather evidence, to later present to their peers and show how they were able to use decimals and conjunctions and earn a digital “badge” like scouts.

 Learning Teams

Students should not have to be limited by their particular school in order to make progress. They should be able to connect to students at the global level and work on solving problems in teams, like in the virtual worlds described by Chatfield.  I would also expand this to include a peer-teaching component. It is no secret that students often learn faster from each other.

Any sort of online learning collaboration should, as a fundamental part, include an element of peer review and instruction. Those students who have more experience points can team up with those who are starting out and lend them a hand.

Competition could still play a role, but students would be compelled to make sure everyone on their team was up to task in order for the team to complete a mission.

Bright Horizons?

The challenge in all of this is not merely to change the way we teach our children. Many of these ideas are already permeating the educational world in smaller, more limited settings. Others are still in their infancy. What is truly worrisome is that these changes will arrive and that they will become centralized and monetized for the for-profit world.  The last thing we need is for all of this to be handed over to Pearson or some other large conglomerate whose only concern is reaping a profit and who see our students not as the leaders of tomorrow, but as items on a quarterly report.


Also of interest is a study by Stanford Medical School that found that the male brain is more likely to be rewarded by video games than the female. Hmmm…definitely throws another wrench into the equation!

Also, check out this podcast for some funny insight on the world of video games:

A Life Well Wasted



Obama Holds Town Hall on Latino Education Issues

U.S. President Obama took time out of bombing Libya to answer some questions about what his administration is or is not doing to address the problems facing the English Learners and Latino students in our schools. Jorge Ramos of the  Univision network put this “Foro Comunitario” together las Monday as part of their feature entitled “El Presidente, Los Hispanos, y la Educación.”

The event took place at the Bell Multicultural High School in Washington D.C and in conjunction by the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and advocacy groups. (Even NASA is credited on the Univisión website as having had a hand in it. )

Obama spoke in his usual, calculated manner, pointing out things he has said before, unveiling no  surprises, but as a whole  the forum  served as a good landscape view of the Obama administration’s positions on issues that affect the Hispanic community, and the national educational trajectory in general.

Here are some of the highlights, in case you don’t want to sit through the whole 45 minute video:

Jorge Ramos confronted Obama with the statistic that his administration has deported more people than any other, to which he responded that his administration has made the deportation of “criminals” rather than normal hardworking people a priority. The latter group, he argued, has seen a decrease in deportation.

In one of the most poignant moments a student asked via video, why she received a deportation order, challenging his assertion that they were only trying to deport criminals. The POTUS responded with administration talking points on the importance of securing borders and getting comprehensive immigration reform passed.

Then he fielded a tough question on the amount of money the U.S. spends on war compared to what it spends on education. He tiptoed around it, and said that the defense budget was built over many decades. He claimed that in his new budget, even with all the wars he is still committed to fighting, he was able to increase the overall education budget by ten percent. Balance, balance, he argued.

He then gave the usual billboard advice to parents on the importance of reading to your child and staying involved in school, and going to college. He also did more than his fair share of tooting his administration’s horn on his accomplishments on making college more affordable and such. He was clearly in campaign mode at times, and managed to crack a few jokes where he could.

But the atmosphere was punctured by a woman who spoke about her son who died as a result of bullying, who asked why did he not answer her letters and what we was planning on doing about it at a national scale. He said he was sorry to hear about it, and went on to tout what he was already doing about it.

Obama also went down the list of tech devices he owns–ipad, computer, blackberry–which led to the final question, delivered by another student, Diana Castillo, about access to technology.

Obama raced through the answer, but said “if” schools know how to use technology well, every student should have access to the computer. “Technology is not a magic bullet,” he said and added that

Another student challenged him on the amount of standardized tests, which he found excessive. Obama replied by saying that those tests are being used to punish students an schools too much, and that we needed a “less pressure-packed atmosphere” and that we should perhaps consider giving tests every few years. Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have hinted such things in the past, but it was refreshing to hear him say that he doesn’t want students evaluated solely on standardized tests, and that education should not be focused on “teaching to the test”.

To what extent they are going to move on this given the sad state of the Congress is still to be seen, although signs are not hopeful–but not altogether hopeless either.

Multiple Algorithms at New York’s School of One , which has shown itself to be a good source of education news and trends, recently featured this video with a story about “hybrid schools”.  Teachers, remote-tutors, computers, robots (okay, not quite), and personalized algorithms converge to produce some impressive educational outcomes at School of One. Who wouldn’t want their own child to have that opportunity?

It is clear that technology offers us a way to individualize education beyond what was available just a decade ago. The diversity of a student population, its language needs,  talents and challenges can be met through effective  diagnosis  and prescription. Daily monitoring, especially if the student is involved in goal setting and knows exactly what needs to be mastered, can work wonders and accelerate learning. Being able to “challenge” and “pass” an objective will mean less time devoted to repetitive work. Students can move at their own pace when the content is made to suit.

While  the benefits of tailoring education  through mathematical algorithms that figure out what a student needs can work great for math, yet more evidence is needed to see how well this would translate for Writing and Reading, a more personal and subjective area where content mastery beyond spelling and grammar is difficult to pin down.

While these and other hybrid schools look great in their videos, are they leaving anything out? What about music and sports? Can a school integrate all of those components? So many new schools and charters are shoved into office space and abandoned churches. In many cases they give up many things that larger, standardized institutions can accommodate, like decent playground. It might be excessive to demand everything of them, but the question must still be posed.

School of One is exactly what charters schools were supposed to be like, laboratories for innovation.  But achieving this vision for students across the board will require heavy investment, and commitment from the federal government and other public agencies. There aren’t enough foundations and endowments and grants to finance this educational renaissance.

Until such things are a reality in low-income schools, we will continue to demand “tequity”.

Digital Kids: Experts’ Views on Digital Learning from PBS

Couldn’t embed this one for some reason, but here it is:

Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century

This is of a few videos that PBS has released recently about the so-called digital revolution that’s is taking over the classrooms the world over. Love of or hate it, educators are going to have to grapple with this at some point. For many of us in the teaching profession who still recoil at the idea of letting kids play with their phones in class, for example, this video should definitely make one reconsider.

But to be fair, the documentary is about more than cell phones in school. It delves into everything from tablets to stuff I didn’t know existed. Definitely an eye-opener and meant to be watched WITH your students, if they are old enough and/or have the language skills.

Also, keep this website in mind:

I’ve spent hours watching shows from NOVA to Frontline, many of which carry teacher materials and links to additional resources.