Month: August 2018

School districts in Maine rethink PBL

With the change in the law, districts throughout the state are reassessing where they stand and where they want to go.

York schools recently decided that they weren’t ready to move to a full PBL implementation, and will be granting credit-based diplomas and using a traditional grading system. The principal sent out a letter to the parents, explaining his and his vice principal’s thoughts on the matter and what it means for the students in the district.

Just as in our district, RSU9 is now revisiting PBL and its efficacy and implementation.

Per comments online and the latest school board meeting, it looks like MSAD75 (Topsham – Mt. Ararat) is also moving back to 0-100 — and they are reopening the conversation for PBL in younger grades, as well (not just high school).

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Bill Gates Admits On Education Tech, ‘We Really Haven’t Changed Outcomes’

This article is a couple years old, but…

I found this perspective particularly enlightening (with my emphasis added):

Headmaster John Vallance pronounced the billions of dollars spent on classroom technology a “scandalous waste of money” that “distracts” from quality teaching. “We see teaching as fundamentally a social activity,” Dr. Vallance said. “It’s about interaction between people, about discussion, about conversation. We find that having laptops or iPads in the classroom inhibits conversation – it’s distracting.”

Dr. Vallance identified a related problem with technological “personalized learning” – when conversation is removed from education, the students find themselves confronted with a uniform point of view. “The digital delivery of teaching materials across Australia has had a powerful normative effect,” he observed. “It’s making it quite difficult for children to learn how to disagree, how not to toe the party line, because they can’t question things – the possibility of questioning things has been taken away from them.”

I’m a lover of technology. But I’m certain I don’t want my kid to have such personalized learning (e.g., at his own pace, less interaction/conversation with kids in the class and with the teacher) — that he doesn’t learn how to communicate well. That he can’t ask questions and hear different answers. That he’s not exchanging ideas with others. I want him to learn how to question things. I want him to learn HOW to learn. Not just how to skip through skills and assessments at his own speed, with little interaction with others. Part of learning is just that — interacting with others. If I wanted to take that experience from him, I could home school him. I could expose him to fewer ideas and perspectives. I could have every aspect of his learning be personalized and isolated and limited to only what I want him to learn. Or only what he chooses to learn. I fear PBL starts down this path. We personalize the education to “fit” the kid — instead of exposing the kid to as much as possible — which teaches the kid how to adjust and learn in different situations. Skills that can’t be learned if we go down the path of personalizing everything.
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Ongoing concerns and questions

Throughout this conversation, I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my concerns.

And I find myself feeling like I’m overreacting to new communications from the school system. I take a moment to breathe and try not to respond right away.

So, I’ve taken a week or two since the latest communication from Freeport High School’s Principal, Jennifer Gulko, to breathe and try to figure out what about it caused me to feel agitated.

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Mark Zuckerberg’s Plan To ‘Personalize’ Learning Rests On Shaky Ground

This is similar to a refrain I’ve heard from others about aspects of PBE that are “good” — “it just makes sense.” My question is why are we instituting new ways of educating kids based on it “making sense” — and not based on actual research? Things that make sense to some, don’t always make sense to others. And this is EDUCATION. We should be basing how we teach our kids on more than someone’s gut feeling. Use the gut feeling to justify doing the research — and find out if your gut was right. Don’t jump past the research stage and into changing a system for thousands of kids based solely on it “making sense.”

From the article:

Perhaps the basic reason for Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm is that, as he has said, “The model just intuitively makes sense.” That is, it intuitively makes sense to people like Zuckerberg and Gates, both highly motivated Harvard dropouts. No doubt they would have enjoyed school far more if they’d been able to race ahead at their own pace and choose what they wanted to learn.

Full article:

Personalized learning is a slippery term, but the basic idea is to tailor learning to individual students and have them demonstrate they’ve mastered one component of learning before moving on to the next. Technology plays a key role, with students using software that is supposed to fit their needs.

And here’s where it seems the author points out that they don’t appear to have any evidence, yet, of its effectiveness:

The idea of personalized learning has proven appealing not only to Zuckerberg but also to his fellow tech titan Bill Gates. “I love this cutting-edge school design,” Gates has declared on his blog. Between 2013 and 2017, the Gates Foundation invested over $300 million to support research on personalized learning. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have announced that their own education initiative will invest “hundreds of millions of dollars a year” in the field, which they believe will provide “every student with a customized education.” Gates and Zuckerberg have even teamed up on one joint grant—a relatively modest $12 million—to promote personalized learning and build an “evidence base” that proves its effectiveness.

That’s unusual. Generally speaking, education reformers like Gates and Zuckerberg say they want to see an evidence base before they invest in an idea. They want data and “proof points” that show the idea works. And when it comes to personalized learning, the data is inconclusive at best.

The most encouraging study to date found that personalized learning had a modest positive effect on math test scores and no significant impact on scores in reading. But other studies have found that some personalized learning programs can reduce students’ enjoyment of learning or make them less likely to feel there’s an adult at their school who knows them well.

And people wonder why some parents are pushing back?

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