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Here I post my latest education-related observations and interests.
Have a news article or a book you think I should hear about? Drop me a line!

AERA 2018

Long but exciting week at the AERA conference in NYC. I’ve had a cold for the last several weeks so I didn’t see as much of the conference as I might have, but found some really inspiring work nonetheless. Maisie Gholson was such a treat to watch, as were numerous Vanderbilt friends. An evening trip to the American Museum of Natural History was an obvious highlight, as was learning about the research program at AMNH. Finally digging into their call for a coherent research agenda in informal science learning in preparation for some work this summer at PacSCI and CWB! Now, to get through the last bits of this semester.

Diane Ravitch

Heard Diane Ravitch speak at Vanderbilt yesterday. As usual, I was impressed with her work and found myself agreeing with most everything she discussed. The format was less inspiring, however—mostly a “preaching to the choir” series of 15-second conclusions followed by clapping and cheering from the audience. In a discussion with some of my classmates afterward, I found myself defending her work with reference to the one or two books I’ve read, because the talk never went into details and evidence. Much of what is inspiring to me about Diane Ravitch is that she has changed her views in the face of data, and certainly it is difficult to give a popular talk purely on the presentation of data. Considering the audience’s reaction, however, it would seem she catered her talk perfectly. My only objection to the content was a flippant comment about the teaching of creationism in religious schools, which is certainly an issue, but not an across-the-board policy, as she made it sound.

Multiple Choice Tests and the Right/Wrong problem

The Washington Post the other day posted an insightful (if brief) discussion of multiple choice tests by Terry Heick. In it, the curriculum director at TeachThought does a nice job of identifying some of the aspects of learning that are ignored or implicitly devalued by multiple choice tests. Among these are the value of uncertainty, the importance of procedure and process, and the ultimately “fluid nature of information”. Interestingly, Heick manages to stay clear of the rhetoric that often plagues such observations—that teachers alone understand the value of true learning, and that administrators, politicians, and often students themselves relish the simpler, dichotomous approach—instead delivering a gentle, more holistic (if perhaps inertly diplomatic) overview.

Reliable Circumstances

Last week the University of Rochester announced a very interesting update to the famous “Marshmallow Study”. In the original study, children were put in a room and given a single treat, after which the researcher left the room for a time. The children were told that they could eat the treat if they wanted to, but that if they waited until the researcher returned fifteen minutes later, they would be given a second treat in addition to the first. In follow-up studies decades later, kids who held out longer, despite the temptation to eat the first treat, were shown to have better “success” on all kinds of qualitative and quantitative measures.

In the study released this week, researchers showed that they could influence the wait times of children by manipulating the reliability of the researcher. In the “unreliable” case, researchers made promises that they failed to deliver on. In the “reliable” case, researchers made the same promises, but did deliver. Kids given the “unreliable” researchers waited for significantly less time than the average from the original study, while kids given the “reliable” researchers waited significantly longer, which findings suggest that an overall sense of the reliability of their environment heavily influences children’s tendency to delay gratification.

Math Anxiety in Early Elementary Students

A new study out of the University of Chicago tracks “math anxiety” in early elementary students. Interestingly, they found that because anxiety most notably affects working memory, it also tends to affect higher-performing students more profoundly than lower-performing students. The idea is that because so often lower-performing students have less robust working memory to begin with, and so use externalization strategies, their achievement on math tests is less affected by anxiety.

(Link to an article about the study here.)

Educators as a Professional Class

Here‘s a neat opinion piece from The NYTimes about a new way to recruit K-12 teachers. While the “how” is a bit vague, I couldn’t agree more with his general attitude. I especially like that he touches on how important pedagogical content knowledge is, some of which can be studied, but much of which really needs to be absorbed first-hand.

“Flipping” the classroom

Thanks to myriad online resources such as Khan Academy and ever-simpler ways to digitize everything, classroom teachers are increasingly able to integrate technology into their course outlines. My latest favorite is the concept of “flipping” the classroom. That is, sending lectures home (largely via online videos) and doing “homework” in the classroom, where the students have the opportunity to access their teachers and peers when confronted with difficult material. With any luck, this kind of innovation will eventually make my work obsolete (or finally get me into a classroom!). Here the Washington Post does a nice overview. (Or watch the TED talk by Salman Khan where he touches on this subject here.)

The End of Spring!

Spring is winding down and I’m starting to get requests for summer work, particularly test prep. This is a great season to start looking into ISEE and SAT work, particularly if you’re concerned that test preparation might get in the way of regular academics. If you’re considering a test prep course over the summer, drop me a line and we can begin working out a schedule!

Mastering Self-Control

Went to see Roy Baumeister and John Tierney give a brief talk about willpower (based on their book “Willpower”) at Town Hall last night. It was a cursory talk, though Baumeister’s observations of “decision fatigue” were intriguing, as were his claims that similar phenomena illustrate that willpower acts as a muscle. Unfortunately for me, follow-up questions about ADD and other specifics about the potential applications of his theory were barely addressed. In particular, I wonder what Baumeister would say about notions of self-efficacy, which are (for me) a more compelling explanation, at least of the data presented in this 30 minute talk.