Mind/Shift: Why Teachers Should Be Trained Like Actors

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00000000Story by Katrina Schwartz

Teaching is a lot like acting, a high-energy, performance profession that requires a person to act as a role model. But when teachers go through training and professional development, the performance aspect of the job is rarely emphasized or taught. Acknowledging this aspect could be a missed opportunity to restructure ways teachers learn new skills and tactics.

Actors, musicians or acrobats spend hours perfecting their craft because that’s how they improve. Teachers on the other hand, are often asked to identify teaching tools and tactics they’d like to try and to reflect on how those new elements could be integrated into the classroom.

“Knowing what you want to do is a long way from being able to do it,” said Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools, a non-profit school management organization and author of Teach Like a Champion and Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better in a recent Future of Education conversation with Steve Hargadon. He started trying to improve teaching by identifying the best practices of exceptional teachers and giving workshops on those “gold nuggets” to less experienced teachers. While many teachers found what they learned helpful, they couldn’t put the new methods into practice.

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Mind/Shift: For Students, the Importance of Doing Work That Matters

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0000000Story by Will Richardson

Photo: MartinaK15

We’re halfway to school when my 14-year-old son remembers a homework assignment he forgot to do for biology class.

“Something big?” I ask, fearing the worst.
“Nah,” he says with a shrug. “Just a handout and some questions. It doesn’t matter.”

It’s happened before, many times, in fact, that “it doesn’t matter” response when it comes to work both of my kids are doing in school. This morning when he said it, I started trying to remember any work that they’d done this year that actually did matter in the world, work that seemed to have a purpose outside the classroom. Unfortunately, not much came to mind.

That’s an especially frustrating reality for me because in my travels to schools around the world I see lots of examples of “work that matters”; high school kids in Philadelphia designing solar panels for hospitals in the African bush; middle school kids in San Diego writing books about their local ecosystems and selling them in local stores; primary school kids designing a new classroom wing being built at their school outside of Melbourne, Australia. And more.

“Work that matters” has significance beyond classroom walls; it’s work that is created for an authentic audience who might  enjoy it or benefit from it even in a small way. It’s work that isn’t simply passed to the teacher for a grade, or shared with peers for review. It’s work that potentially makes a difference in the world.

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Mind/Shift: Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures

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000000Story by: Alix Spiegel

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

“The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ ”

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

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Mind/Shift: Beyon Worksheets, A True Expression of Student Learning

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00000Story by Shawn McCusker

Part 4 in the series Learning In the New Economy of Information.

e live in a world where we are constantly connected to information. This vast ocean of information, the best knowledge of mankind — almost all of it — can be accessed at any time in just seconds. But simply being able to access information is not all that impressive. It in no way means that we can understand the information, evaluate it, or grasp its implications. Possession of facts is not learning. What is an important skill is the ability to sift through abundant information, identify what is valid and meaningful, then use it to create meaning and express it. This is why student creation is so important in the new economy of information.

Jason Dvorak, who was teaching a unit on “Sensation and Perception” in his high school psychology class, had planned to first lecture, then have his students evaluate visual examples that he created to represent each concept from the lesson. They would then decide as a group which concept they represented. But Dvorak’s classes had just been given iPads as part of a pilot program, and because the school’s emphasis was on student creation and making use of these tools, he knew that he had to reconstruct the lesson. In the new iteration, the students were tasked with research and the creation of their own unique visual representations of those key concepts. Once the images were complete, the students reviewed and evaluated them as a class, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each and suggesting ways to improve them. Throughout the lesson, Dvorak monitored the discussion, adding nuanced detail and keeping the focus of the discussion on the ultimate learning objective, but the real work was done by the students.

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Mind/Shift: No Courses, No Classrooms, No Grades-- Just Learning

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0000Story by Christina Farr

It took just a few weeks for a group of Boston-based teenagers to develop an affordable prosthetic hand for children. These teens took a brief hiatus from school to enroll in NuVu Studio, a project-based learning program in Cambridge, Mass. that pairs students with real-world projects.

On their first day at NuVu, students were split into groups of 10, assigned a mentor (typically a doctoral student) and a theme, like “the future of global warming” or “balloon mapping.” In the most recent health-themed studio, one of these teams mocked up the prosthetic hand, after conducting interviews with patients, the families of amputees, physicians, and engineers in the Boston area. The students ultimately hacked MakerBot’s original files to make their design on a 3D printer.

NuVu is the brainchild of Saeed Arida, a former PhD student from MIT who believes that young people should be taught to solve real-world problems, like using new materials to design higher-quality prosthetics.

“Studios are not subjects in the traditional sense, as they involve finding a solution for a very real human problem,” said Arida. “What students do here is a very different kind of educational experience.”

Here’s How NuVu describes the program:

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Audio: Perspectives:

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00Story: Sarah Baker

A couple of months ago, a tearful social worker showed me a letter that her eight-year-old client had written. She had helped him to write it as a way for him to talk about his recent loss. His foster parents had made the decision to have him removed from their home. He had experienced years of neglect and abuse and his behaviors were becoming more aggressive. In dark pencil lead he had drawn a sad face with tear drops under each eye. Below it read, "Please let me come home. I'll be good, I promise."

I've been a social worker for almost 20 years, working at an agency that serves children and families. Most of the children are involved in the child welfare system and many are in foster care. The stories of these children's lives are heartbreaking. I remember in graduate school being told that I needed to remain objective for the sake of my clients and to protect myself.

When I first started working in the field, I vacillated between feeling completely overwhelmed and numb. I tried to suppress my feelings, fearing that I would become paralyzed. It was my mother who encouraged me to talk about my feelings. At the time I was working in an inner-city school. Many of the school staff disapproved of therapy, believing that we were indulging "bad" kids. I would sit in my car, on my phone, crying to my mother.

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Mind/Shift: Students Want More Alignment of Tech In and Out of School

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Story: Katrina Schwartz

Project Tomorrow’s 2013 Speak Up survey of more than 325,000 students and 75,000 parents, teachers and administrators digs into how students and teachers are using technology in school and for learning outside of school, and comes up with some interesting insights about the pervasiveness of tech use.

A quarter of students in grades 3-5 and a third of students in grades 6-12 report using a mobile device provided by their school in class. This trend is more pronounced in Title I schools. Still, as tech use proliferates, digital equity has risen to the top as a concern for district leaders. Forty-six percent of district technology leaders say student access to the internet outside of school is one of the most challenging issues they face.

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SF Gate: Tiny Marin County district clings to struggling school

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0Story: Jill Tucker

Photo: Paul Chinn

Despite the state's economic recovery, a Marin County school district is struggling to make ends meet and is planning to cut teachers, administrators and special programs in the coming months.

While unusual, that wouldn't normally be noteworthy save for one not-so-minor detail: The Sausalito Marin City School District, thanks to a property tax loophole, has almost $30,000 a year to spend on each of the 150 students at its single school.

That's triple or quadruple the amount spent by most public schools and several thousand more than elite private schools. It's also just shy of the cost for a year of college at UC Berkeley, including room and board.

And it's still not enough to pay the bills - or lure the area's middle- and upper-class families to send their kids there.

How then does a metropolitan school district with huge piles of cash, along with money woes, mediocre test scores and one under-enrolled school continue to exist?

The situation in Sausalito Marin City exemplifies the staying power of tiny and expensive school districts arguably clinging to community control and historical precedence rather than common sense.

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Mind/Shift: Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick

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girls

Story: Katrina Schwartz

Photo: Woodleywonderworks

ow to praise kids: It’s a hot topic for many parents and educators. A lot of the conversation around it has stemmed from studies by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford who has been researching this specific topic for many years.

“My research shows that praise for intelligence or ability backfires,” said Dweck, who co-authored a seminal research paper on the effects of praise on motivation and performance. “What we’ve shown is that when you praise someone, say, ‘You’re smart at this,’ the next time they struggle, they think they’re not. It’s really about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but taking on difficulty, trying many different strategies, sticking to it and achieving over time.”

But what some might not know is that this paradox is strongest for girls.

Dweck’s research, which focuses on what makes people seek challenging tasks, persist through difficulty and do well over time, has shown that many girls believe their abilities are fixed, that individuals are born with gifts and can’t change. Her research finds that when girls think this way, they often give up, rather than persisting through difficulties. They don’t think they possess the ability to improve, and nowhere is the phenomenon stronger than in math.

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Mind/Shift: What Will Happen to ‘Big Data’ In Education?

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bigdataStory: Anya Kamenetz

Image: Getty

Yesterday, a $100 million startup lost its last customer. According to a Politico article, the state of New York, inBloom‘s last remaining client, will delete all student data on the repository due to privacy concerns.

InBloom’s company spokesperson told Politico the nonprofit was “pushing forward with our mission,” though at the moment there are no known state partners.

InBloom’s trajectory has shined a spotlight on the public’s sensitivity around what happens to student data. When it first began as a mammoth ed-tech project in 2011 by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation called the Shared Learning Infrastructure, the purpose was to provide open-source software to safely organize, pool, and store student data from multiple states and multiple sources in the cloud. That included everything from demographics to attendance to discipline to grades to the detailed, moment-by-moment, data produced by learning analytics programs like Dreambox and Khan Academy. An API — application programming interface — would allow software developers to connect to that data, creating applications that could, at least in theory, be used by any school in the infrastructure.

In February 2013, just a little over a year ago, SLI relaunched as an independent nonprofit named InBloom. The company had nine state partners, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina, representing 11 million students. At SXSWEdu, they made a splashy public debut the following month, hosting parties and panel discussions as an official sponsor, a gathering focused just as much on business as on education.

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