Monday, February 06, 2012

Links on Learning

"The State of Science Standards 2012" maps out an analysis of pre-college science instruction in the United States.
A majority of the states’ standards remain mediocre to awful. In fact, the average grade across all states is—once again—a thoroughly undistinguished C.
There are individual state reports at the site.

Next up is a high school student's ambitious "The education system is broken, and here's how to fix it." One of his complaints relates to the way analytical loading is done (see my previous post):
So, this causes students to go about the "textbook" skipping everything but the formulas, and then memorizing those. Then, when the test comes along, those who had time to memorize their formulas do excellent, and those that had something going on get low grades.
Then, as soon as they're done with the test, they put in all of their efforts into memorizing the next set of formulas and have nothing left from the last set that they memorized except "I love *whatever the topic is*, I got a 96% on that test".
 In a similar vein is a post from "Khan Academy: It's Different This Time." The author is critical of the eponymous video-based instruction site and its methods, claiming that:
Khan Academy may be one of the most dangerous phenomenon in education today. Not because of the site itself, but because of what it — or more appropriately, our obsession with it — says about how we as a nation view education, and what we’ve come to expect.
I think the author assumes too much about the implications of this. Video-based instruction is just a tool, which can be used correctly or abused.

A thread that runs through these three pieces is that intrinsic motivation is important. The report in the first link mentions the excitement that science generated during the Space Race, and how that's lacking today. The high school math student in the second article wants to know why, not just how. And the critique of the Khan Academy is alarmed at a potential "view and spew" pedagogy (my term, not the author's).

Learning terms, rules, methods, facts, connections, and so on can be pretty dry. This constitutes what I'm calling the analytical load required to do something more interested. Learning to play chords on a guitar is slow and painful, but then you get to play songs, which is fun.

I see tight, focused on-demand instruction like the Khan Academy as an essential resource for learning and reinforcing an analytical load. This can be augmented by additional material that motivates learners. There are plenty of ways to do that. Anything that looks like a story is good (history of science, for example). Applications that involve creativity are the ultimate objective.

All of the sources linked above are rightly critical of the prepare-and-certify model of education, which in practice turns into drill-and-test, with almost entirely external motivation. Teachers face a battle in winning back student enthusiasm against this machine. There's nothing wrong with being concerned about grades, but if that's all there is to it, students face a rude awakening after graduation.

More on that theme in an article at Common Dreams: "Wild Dreams: Anonymous, Arne Duncan, and High-Stakes Testing."

Finally, a link from Education Week on the subject of testing students who want to be teachers: "Analysis Raises Questions About Rigor of Teacher Tests." This is the meta-problem.

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