How Should Teachers Be Evaluated?

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By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

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Are teacher evaluations useful, or even necessary? Do some methods affect “good” teachers in a bad way, and perhaps reward “bad” teachers in a good way? For example, some teachers in Florida are evaluated on student test scores in subjects they do not even teach, which could mean that an Art or PE teacher would have his/her value or rating based on their students’ English and math scores!
Every state is figuring out how to conduct evaluations to ensure learning. Clearly, there’s no single, best answer.

Most evaluations today are based on test scores and classroom observations. The problem with student test scores is that teachers with students at higher achievement levels tend to fare better. Yet despite all the furor over test score gains, a report from The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution found only 22 percent of teachers are evaluated on test score gains. On the other hand, all teachers are evaluated based on classroom observation and that “nearly all the opportunities for improvement to teacher evaluation systems are in the area of classroom observations rather than in test score gains.”

Then again, what decides a teacher’s effectiveness? While teachers must be experts in their subject area, they must also be able to share that knowledge in an interesting, memorable and engaging way. But how do we factor in other qualities that make for an effective teacher like patience, empathy, and commitment?

We need to continue to assess the way we currently evaluate teachers and figure out how and where improvements can be made. Do you have an innovative idea to share in this area?

Coding

janetpintoBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer

 

 

Programming, or coding, or writing code, is an important and well-paid skill today. There is a shortage of good programmers. But most students approach computers or mobile devices as consumers. They use computers or devices to play games, or as social media platforms. And they also use computers to search for information, as part of the learning process, which is all to the good. In some cases they are users of interactive games that promote learning.

But all of these use cases are students being consumers of code, and not creators of, producers of, code. Photo by popofatticus via Flickr Creative CommonsProducing is harder than consuming – coding is more difficult than using an app. Yet our modern economy is increasingly reliant on coding and computer science technology more generally.

This blog on the topic at the New York Times is actually entitled “When Kids Would Rather Play Computer Games Than Code Them”. Here’s another article from the New York Times on the topic of learning to code.

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These articles note that coding instruction is trending. In the U.S. there are over 20,000 teachers involved in teaching how to code, according to code.org. The organization states: “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.”  And they believe all kids can learn to code. Code.org helps train high school teachers to instruct coding. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) have contributed $10 million to Code.org in support of their mission.

Public school systems in Chicago and New York City are building the capability to offer more coding instruction to their student populations. Chicago is looking to make the ability to code a graduation requirement within the next 5 years.

The challenge is getting students over the initial learning hump and frustration around creating code that doesn’t work the first time it’s used. Coding requires persistence, and the ability to think logically. One must eliminate every mistake found in the first version of the code, through testing, modification and iteration. Persistence and logical thinking are great skills and attitudes for students to learn and are important life skills more broadly than just around coding.

Scratch is a simple programming language freely available from M.I.T. The site provides small code blocks that can be tied together to help create stories, games and animation. It is designed for children from age 8 and up, and is used in more than 150 different countries.

And here’s a unit on Curriki for game design in a science classroom, using the Scratch language. Check it out!

 

Early Childhood Education Pays for Itself

janetpic_preferred_croppedBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki 

The US is lagging behind other developed countries in Early Childhood Education. Many children enter school (Kindergarten and then primary school) unprepared and they tend to fall further and further behind during their many years of education. Early childhood education leads to improvements in students’ cognition and social and emotional maturity, and provides long-term positive results and cost benefits to society at large. 

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Childcare and PreK (before kindergarten) education provide many such benefits according to earlychildhood.nyc.org:

Cognitively:

  •  Improves school performance
  •  Raises math and language abilities
  •  Sharpens thinking/attention skills
  •  Reduces special education placement
  •  Lowers school drop out rates

Socially and emotionally:

  •  Improves and strengthen interactions with peers
  •  Decreases problem behaviors
  •  Encourages more exploratory behavior
  •  Helps adjustment to the demands of formal schooling

Long-term positive results and cost savings of Early Childhood Education:

  •  Increases lifelong earning potential
  •  Achieves better academic outcomes
  •  Lowers rates of teen pregnancy and incarceration”

Here are some sites where you can investigate the benefits of, and issues around, Early Childhood Education:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/early-childhood

http://www.earlychildhoodnyc.org/resources/aboutECE_whyImportant.cfm

And we have some excellent PreK resources on Curriki, including:

Shapes and Colors Science Kit -

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_cabocesmst/ShapesandColorsScienceKit?bc=

Meet a Puppeteer -

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_Nobiah/MeetaPuppeteer

Improving Learning -

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_Folwell/50littleThingsTeachersParentsandOthersCanDotoImproveLearning

Reading List for PreK - 

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_briansharky22/PreK-KReadingList

Math Games -

http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_Group_3rdGradeMathGames/MathGameTime

But we need more! If you have open educational resources suitable for PreK, please contribute these at:  

http://www.curriki.org/welcome/resources-curricula/contribute-content/publish-resources/

How are Schools Using 3D Printers?

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

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Are you experimenting with 3D printers in your classroom? While 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it’s only become commercially viable (read: affordable) in the last few years. For those unfamiliar with 3D printers, they are a form of manufacturing that takes three-dimensional image files and “prints” them into physical objects using a variety of materials, typically plastic.

 

Christine Mytko

Christine Mytko

A handy resource for teachers and students is Teacher Christine Mytko’s blog Tales of a 3D Printer, which takes a look at the “fascinating potential of 3D printing and the process of getting there.” She has many useful resources listed on her site including:

 

Teen Crime Solvers Use 3D Scanning and Printing 

There are so many ways to use 3D printers in the classroom! For example, a middle school in Richmond County Schools, North Carolina, is giving students hands-on experience in forensic science with their 3D Academy, which is equipped with an HDI Advance R1X 3D scanner from LMI, Geomagics software, 3D Max, and Cube X and Cube 3D printers from 3D Systems.

Students scanned evidence found at the “crime scene,” including a body, as well as finger, hand and shoe prints. The fingerprint was transformed into a virtual block in Cubify Sculpt and 3D printed using their Cube 3D printer. Read the whole story here.

According to this list from EduTECH, 3D printing can be used to demonstrate principles in subjects such as:

  1. Math – 3D print those equations.
  2. Art – 3D print necklaces and sculptures.
  3. Business and Economics – sell the 3D prints!
  4. History – compare 3D Printing to the production line and other manufacturing techniques.
  5. Biology – 3D print cells structures and viruses.
  6. Chemistry – 3D print molecules and proteins.
  7. Show how proteins and catalysts work by physically piecing the models together.
  8. Technology Studies – sit the printer next to the lathes and the welders – another way to make items.
  9. Computing Studies – how 3D Software works.
  10. Drama – Quick, we need some 3D Printed Masks!
  11. Home Economics – 3D Printing food is a form of Molecular Gastronomy.

How are you using 3D printer technology? We’d love to hear your ideas – please share below!

Cinco de Mayo Resources

KimJonesimageBy Kim Jones, CEO, Curriki

Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May, on Monday this year) is perhaps a bigger holiday in certain parts of the United States than it is in Mexico. This is despite it being a celebration of a victory by the Mexican Army over French troops in 1862 at Peubla, Mexico. The observance in the U.S. is a celebration of Mexican-American culture among the large community in the U.S. of people with a Mexican heritage.

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In Mexico it is observed primarily in the state of Puebla and is known as the Day of the Battle of Peubla (in Spanish: El Día de la Batalla de Puebla).

Cinco de Mayo is not just about a national fiesta. It is an important springboard for learning about Mexican history and culture. We currently have a number of featured Social Science resources on Curriki for this year’s observance.

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For Elementary School: Cinco De Mayo Vocabulary Worksheet

Contributed by: Curriki’s Thematic Collections - This worksheet includes vocabulary related to Cinco de Mayo.

For Middle School: Mexico Geo-Political Map

Contributed by: Marshall Cavendish

For High School: The African Influence in Mexico

Contributed by: Brenda Faye - This curriculum unit is based on experiences as a participant in a Fulbright-Hays Seminar Abroad. The unit explores the African presence in Mexico from a historical and cultural perspective.

You can also find additional Cinco de Mayo resources on Curriki hereWe hope you find some of these resources useful in your classrooms.

PBL and Robotics

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

Project-based learning (PBL) is becoming increasingly well-regarded and important in education. We learn more by doing, by active engagement, than we do through passive memorization. Engagement reinforces learning and long-term memory acquisition. PBL can provide, according to Wikipedia, “greater depth of understanding of concepts, [a] broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing skills.” 

Here are two related video resources on Curriki. The first is a four minute overview of PBL and its benefits. And the second is a particular PBL activity for mathematics.

In the real world, whether someone works in private industry or in a government organization, the work often revolves around projects of one sort or another. So PBL is a great way to introduce students to skills they will need in the future. These include:

  • Recruiting team members
  • Teamwork
  • Finding sources for advice
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Decision making
  • Planning
  • Breaking down problems into component tasks
  • Sequencing tasks
  • Researching required information and alternatives
  • Trying, failing, and trying again (persistence!)
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Measuring success
  • Iterating to reach desired quality
  • Presentation of results

One great area to look at for PBL is Robotics. Here’s an article from Science Friday that talks about the benefits high school students experienced working on a robotics challenge, including the teamwork they developed and the friendships that ensued.

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Photo courtesy of The Bot Side

And here is a resource for a high school level robotics project on Curriki. The project involves building a robotic machine to sort M&Ms, Jelly Beans, or Lego Bricks by color. This is a fun, two to three week project that involves engineering, physics, science, math, writing, and programming. Students will acquire a solid grasp of the programming language RobotC. You need familiarity with solving problems with robotic devices designed and built from Lego kits. The resource includes a video providing inspiration and a glimpse at other students’ solutions to the color sorting problem.

There are many resources on Curriki that could be part of PBL activities. We encourage you to search on www.curriki.org/welcome with “PBL” and “project-based learning”.

Technology Helping To Personalize Student Learning Experiences

SU13StudentsReportCoverBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

Students learn in many different ways, whether they’re a visual learner preferring pictures and shapes, or an auditory learner preferring sounds and rhythms. Oftentimes, we use a mix of learning styles and techniques to process information.

Unfortunately, traditional textbooks simply can’t meet students’ diverse learning styles, since every student has unique interests, attention spans, and needs. So how do we ensure the success of every student? The key to a personalized learning experience is technology.

A recent study from Speak Up published this month explored how K-12 students are using digital tools and resources to enhance their schoolwork activities.

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Infographic- The New Digital Learning Playbook: Mobile Learning

Key findings from this year’s report entitled The New Digital Learning Playbook: Understanding the Spectrum of Students’ Activities and Aspirations include:

  • Girls outpace boys in use of many digital tools for learning, particularly the socially based tools like texting and collaborating online.
  • 29 percent of high school boys say that they are very interested in a job or career in a STEM field, but only 19 percent of girls say the same.
  • Students continue to report less regular interaction with traditional social networking sites like Facebook, while 44 percent of students in grades 6-12 report using social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Vine. Nearly one-third of high school students reported using Twitter.
  • One-quarter of students in grades 3-5 and nearly one-third of students in grades 6-12 say that they are using a mobile device provided by their school to support schoolwork.
  • In four years, the percent of middle school students taking tests online increased from 32 percent to 47 percent.
  • High school students reported a mean average of 14 hours per week using technology for writing.
  • Only one-third of middle school students say that for schoolwork reading, they prefer to read digital materials rather than printed materials; more than half, however, say online textbooks would be an essential component of their “ultimate school.”
  • Digital equity, including to student access to the Internet outside of school, is a growing concern among district technology leaders with 46 percent saying it is one of the most challenging issues they face today (compared to just 19 percent in 2010).

With the right access to different kinds of educational resources that fit different learning styles, we can allow children to learn at their own pace using various learning methods that meet their individual needs. We have an opportunity to customize education for students everywhere and to provide the education they need to shape their futures.