Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

Another Pandemic Positive: The Expansion of Outdoor Education

December 31, 2020 Comments off

Students in Portland, ME may not be getting the academics they need but, as AP’s David Sharp reports, thanks to an expansion of outdoor education, they ARE getting a great education on nature and an imaginative means of coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Portland ME is offering outdoor education in December? What happens when it is cold and it snows? When Mother Nature gives you cold you learn how to bundle up and when it gives you snow, you study snowflakes! As Mr. Sharp notes, Portlands littlest students, the Pre-K and Kindergartners, take their naps “…in hammocks in wool-lined sleeping bags filled with hot water bottles” and the teacher are finding that the students are begging them to go outdoors. And why not? 

“It’s the healthiest, safest place for us to be right now. Anything that we can do to get kids outdoors for longer periods of time is vital. This is where we need to be right now,” said Anne Stires, an outdoor learning consultant and advocate in Maine.

And what happened in a recent snowstorm? 

Cindy Soule’s fourth graders in Maine’s largest city have studied pollination in a community garden. They solved an erosion problem that was damaging trees. They learned about bear scat.

Then came a fresh layer of snow and temperatures that hovered around freezing — but her students were unfazed.

Bundled up and masked, they scooted outside with their belongings in buckets. They collected their pencils and clipboards, plopped the buckets upside down in the snow, took a seat and went to work.

The lesson? Snow, of course, and how snowflakes are formed.

As Mr. Sharp’s article indicates, Maine is not the only State embracing outdoor education no matter what challenges the temperature or weather presents. Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and— based on personal knowledge– Vermont are all offering support for outdoor education… and Portland found that the public enthusiastically provided warm weather gear for their neediest children when they put out a call. 

What will happen when the pandemic ends? If the experience of Portland educators is any indication it will remain:

This is Portland’s first widespread use of outdoor learning, and the goal is to keep it going even after the pandemic.

Teachers are encouraged, but not required, to take their classes outdoors, and a school survey shows about half of teachers doing so.

Soule said her students will never forget the pandemic’s hardships. But she hopes studying in nature will be among their good memories of 2020.

They’re seeing the outdoors around them and it brings relevancy to what they’re studying,” Soule said. ” They will remember that forever.”

Given Portland’s daunting weather it doesn’t seem like bad weather should be an excuse for ANY school district… and given the relative ease of maintaining social distancing and mandating masks (what student ISN’T willing to cover their face in sub-freezing weather?) it seems like a natural way to return to school AND learn some practical life long skills. It seems far more energizing and memorable than starting at blank boxes on a screen! 


de Blasio is Being Sane and Sensible: Acknowledging Mistakes, Looking Forward, and Embracing a “New Normal” Based on Technology-based Personalized Learning

December 12, 2020 Comments off

Two articles I read yesterday morning make me believe that after floundering and fouling up the opening of schools in New York City this year he is doing two things politicians seldom if ever do: he is acknowledging his mistakes and planning more than one news cycle ahead. And from what I’ve read, his plans have merit.

Yesterday mornings Gothamist article by Sophia Chang and Jessica Gould opens with these paragraphs:

Acknowledging the inconsistent and rocky school year for New York City’s public school students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan Thursday to address educational loss and achievement gaps — starting next year.

“The foundation will be laid through this school year to get ready for a very different school year that begins in September,” de Blasio said at his press briefing Thursday. “In September, there will be a new normal.”

The 2021 Student Achievement Plan will commence with diagnostics measuring how students are doing with educational benchmarks in September, said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at the press briefing.

De Blasio emphasized this will not be high-stakes testing, but rather assessments for teachers to understand their students’ needs.

The Gothamist article also referenced the creation of a “one-stop digital learning hub” and the establishment of a “Parent University” in several languages to teach families how to provide assistance to kids, and “intense mental health assistance for school communities”.

A Chalkbeat article by Christine Veiga covered the same ground, but offered an elaboration on the proposed assessments, indicating that they would be formative NWEA-like assessments as opposed to the summative assessments that were the lifeblood of NCLB. In describing the testing protocols, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza indicted he planned to “give more assessments to gauge what students already know” and then “tailor digital lessons to catch students up in subjects where they’ve fallen behind”.

“Can you imagine the power of an individualized education plan for every student?” Carranza said. “Just think about identifying the explicit skills that students need to work on and the plan that we have to help them achieve a mastery of that explicit skill. That’s what we’re talking about with the digital curriculum.”

Ms. Veiga thought Carranza’s plans sounded suspiciously like “personalized education”, which she views as

…an approach that uses technology to tweak lessons based on a student’s progress. The approach has gained momentum in school districts across the country, with the backing of technology and software companies, as well as donors. There are reasons to be skeptical, however.

And she offers a list of those reasons before noting that in some instances in New York City with students who have fallen behind “personalized learning” HAS worked… and the district could use its experiences since the outbreak of the pandemic to inform the methods they can use going forward:

Some of the city’s transfer schools — which serve students who have fallen behind in credits, and often focus on individualized instruction and intensive counseling supports — have impressive records of helping students catch up. Small group tutoring, done well, can also be effective. Asked about tutoring, Carranza said it could be a possibility, but funding is likely a challenge and a wide scale program will require support from colleges and other community institutions.

The education department is proposing making “high quality digital curriculum” available for every school, and a “digital learning hub.” Carranza said more students will now have access to devices and the internet, and teachers have gained new digital skills that should be tapped to help students catch up, even outside of school hours.

The new normal that we’re talking about post-pandemic has really created some opportunities for us to individualize instruction and really tailor instruction for students in a way that we just didn’t have the ability to do back in March,” Carranza said.

I am an advocate of technology-based “personalized learning” and wish that public school leaders had been in the vanguard on this initiative instead of venture capitalists and tech CEOs… But as Mr. Carranza and Mayor de Blasio note, teachers HAVE developed the comfort with technology required to make this approach work. The key to making it work for the students who fell behind as a result of the pandemic, though, is clear: “…funding is likely a challenge and a wide scale program will require support from colleges and other community institutions.

In some respects I think that the challenge of funding– which is unarguably daunting— will be easier to get than support from colleges and community institutions… and harder yet from the parents of students who are successful in school!

Standardized Testing on the Ropes INTERNATIONALLY As Pandemic Opens the Door to Widespread Questioning of their Value

November 30, 2020 Comments off

The November 25 Economist featured an article datelined Seoul and Sao Paulo that described the adverse impact the pandemic is having on the use of standardized tests to sort and select the best and brightest students across the globe. Citing examples from South America, Asia, Australia and Europe, and quoting experts from those continents, the article describes how nations have varied in their decisions about administering standardized tests that determine whether most students around the world will qualify for higher education in their nation and thereby gain access to the highest paying jobs. Ultimately, the international debates mirror those going on in our country with traditionalists seeing no reason to suspend or abandon the standardized testing while progressives see the suspension and abandonment of these tests as the only way to overcome the gross inequities that result from poverty. Here’s the traditionalist view: 

Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the oecd, a club of mostly rich countries, thinks more countries could have held exams safely: “You don’t want people to talk; you don’t need them to move around; their desks are quite far apart.” So far it appears that the grades of most pupils who did sit exams this year have been no worse than usual, according to uk naric, a British government agency that keeps track of qualifications in other countries. Candidates in Germany performed a little better.

Mr. Schleicher’s argument is that the results of the pandemic-administered international tests used to benchmark the performance of various countries around the world were no different that the results of the pre-pandemic tests so, therefore, it would have been reasonable to insist that all countries administer these tests… an argument that assumes the test results reflected an even playing field to begin with, which is clearly NOT the case when 11th grade students in European countries who are only admitted to that level of schooling if they past a competitive test are compared with US students who are afforded a universal education through grade 12. 

The progressive perspective is best summarized in this paragraph:

Some psychologists worry that the pressure of exams is raising the risk that vulnerable youngsters will develop mental-health problems, early signs of which often appear during adolescence and early adulthood. Exams can also label children as failures, when they had no choice but to attend bad schools. And rich parents often pay for tutoring to boost their offspring’s chances.

But the subsequent paragraph describes the challenge progressive face: 

Yet abandoning exams creates new problems. Continuous assessment means pupils may simply “learn stuff, get a grade and then forget it”, says Dylan William, a British expert in educational assessment. Coursework can encourage students to tinker endlessly with just a few pieces of work. Junking exams only introduces new kinds of stress if the alternative is that all schoolwork counts towards final grades. Without objective assessments, learners from poor homes are more likely to be judged on their backgrounds than on their actual achievements.

So what is the way out of the woods on the question of how best to assess students? The article offers no clear answer to that question, though it does shed light on one clear consequence that seems to be emerging from the pandemic: the use of a single test as an indicator of preparedness for higher education is likely to wane: 

The pandemic may amplify calls to get rid of exams that some already thought unnecessary. Universities in America traditionally ask applicants to sit the sat or act, tests which are not required by the public school system. This year many universities waived that requirement after many exam sittings were cancelled. This delighted critics of testing, who say the exams advantage richer applicants who can pay for test-prep. About 70% of American universities offering four-year courses now operate “test-optional” admissions policies, up from around 45% before the pandemic.

In England the pandemic has raised fresh questions about the future of gcses, a flurry of exams taken by 16-year-olds. These have become less crucial as a result of reforms that require teenagers to stay in some kind of education or training until they are 18. Developing countries have been gradually junking exams they have traditionally used to decide which children may enter secondary school. This year’s crisis could speed that up.

Ultimately, as educators, psychologists, and policy makers examine the impact of the pandemic and the way technology has been used in a more widespread fashion, a consensus on the way schools are organized might emerge: a consensus that the age-based cohort groupings implemented in the name of administrative efficiency in the early 20th Century might not make sense in an era where everyone has access to self-paced learning… and given the ability to individualize the pace of instruction schools might focus more on their most important function: developing the skills students need to work harmoniously in a democracy.