That digital program your school bought will never transform learning

It seems like most teachers and students have access to a paid-for digital learning program. You know the kind – RAZ kids, IXL, Spelling City, any one of those listed in the featured image of this article – and they all promise to raise achievement while making learning “fun”. These CAI (computer assisted instruction) programs can be traced back to  when Skinner first created his “teaching machine”, the original solution for replacing the teacher, pictured below.

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Skinner’s Teaching Machine

The thing is, these “learning” programs have not been proven to be as effective as the edtech industry overlords would like us to believe. In fact, the meta-analysis of John Hattie, which was shared with me at AEC 2017 by Dr. Sonny Magana (@sonnymagana), clearly shows that telling a kid to “go do Mathletics” will not make a sizable difference in the learning of our students.

Let me explain the research:

The Bad News: When technology is used to replace a teacher, it has a very small positive effect size on student achievement. Hattie’s research includes studies on the use of CAI programs across curriculum and contexts, as well as other approaches that mistake the transmission of information for authentic knowledge generation (Powerpoint use by teachers, for example). The graph below indicates with a black arrow the average of all of Hattie’s researched initiatives, programs, and strategies in education to be a 0.4 effect size. When we look at the effect size for how technology has been implemented over the last 50 years, including using computers for passive absorption of information transmitted by a CAI teaching robot, it falls below the average at 0.34. In short, Skinner’s Teaching Machine wasn’t particularly effective and neither is your school’s CAI program.

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“Despite the extraordinary developments in computer technology since the Kennedy Administration, not to mention the vast sums of taxpayer money spent on digitizing classrooms since the 1960s, the average effect of computer technology in education has been stuck well below the zone of desired effects. This is hardly cause for celebration.” Dr. Sonny Magana at #AEC2017

The Good News: When technology is used to enhance proven teaching and learning methods, the positive effect size is off the charts. When you compare the status quo, which is a below-average 0.34 effect size on student achievement, and the 1.6 effect size of a framework like the T3 (see below to learn more about this), it is clear that we need to change the way we facilitate learning with technology.

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Edtech models for transformation of learning

Poke around this blog a bit, and you will see several articles we have written on best practice technology integration. I hope that the theme that all of these articles have touched on is that technology should only be used as a tool to transform and maximize learning. Replacing traditional teaching with a computer is not going to ensure achievement for our learners. The use of a CAI like Mathletics or Spelling City to replace teacher and student-led instruction only gives them automated, rote practice. While this is not a bad thing, we need to refocus our planning so that students are spending more time developing their higher-order thinking skills through producing, inquiring and contributing with technology.

Here are some models that can guide the 21st century teacher away from edtech as a direct substitute to edtech as a tool for transformation:

#1 Early Years Blended Learning Development Guide (Zach Groshell et al)

The first model I’ d like to share is a guide that I created last year, in collaboration with Brad Arnold and elementary teachers at my school, which was subsequently implemented in early years classrooms. It uses 5 common and observable student actions (seen on the left column) and the SAMR scale to measure the level of edtech use. When teachers observe student learning that falls under the examples of modification and redefinition of the learning task, we know that instruction is likely going to have a positive effect size on student achievement.

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Click here to see the whole thing

#2 Blended Learning Development Guide (Brad Arnold et al)

This is another blended learning design model that I helped to develop with Brad Arnold (@leybradly), and it is slightly different from the rubric above as it is less focused on observable student actions and more on the traits of the learning environment. The 7 traits of a learning environment are the observable traits of any learning environment, shown in the left column below, and the top row of the rubric includes the SAMR scale to measure the level of edtech use. This guide is best used to facilitate teacher self-reflection on the effect of educational technology on the learning environment.

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Click here to see the whole thing

#3 T3 Framework for Educational Technology Use (Dr. Sonny Magana)

The third and final model I’d like to share for edtech instructional design is the T3 Framework (see video below). Based off of the body of research and implementation by Dr. Sonny Magana, the T3 Framework is designed to disrupt the current narrative about educational technology by contextualizing its use into 3 stages: Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent. Grounded in sound research and theory, the T3 Framework is designed to support how educational systems measure the ways classroom technologies are used to unleash student learning potential. Teachers seeking to base their instruction on the most effective strategies for student achievement should be looking up at the T2 and T3 stages, and pushing themselves to transform education by having students produce and contribute, and to “transcend” by using technology tools to facilitate inquiry and solve world problems that matter.

 


While the edtech companies may not agree that their expensive math and reading programs have limited effect sizes on student achievement, we should be looking closer at the last 50 years of research on this topic and seeking a better way forward when it comes to edtech use in the classroom.

We need to stop:

  • Using CAI technology to replace teacher and student-led instruction
  • Using technology to fill time
  • Calling the use of CAI programs “blended learning”
  • Thinking that a game or a program can teach just as well as a teacher

And start:

  • Looking at student actions through the lens of transformational and transcendent learning.
  • Considering the traits of an effective learning environment and how we know students learn best
  • Seeking to increase moments of “redefined” or “transcendent” learning  in our own practice

 

What do you think? Could this help to improve your teaching? Comment below with your thoughts on blended learning and keep coming back to EducationRickshaw.com.

– Zach Groshell, @mrzachg

When it Comes to PD, Teachers Need Differentiation

In a week or so, I will be presenting at AEC 2017 about blended learning design and evaluation, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give my thoughts on the enormous responsibility that we have as trainers and presenters to differentiate for the various levels of teachers that exist in our schools.

I am lucky enough to have worked at schools that take professional development seriously. When done right, in-house PD provides a forum for professional discourse on theory and practice. It is varied, active, and differentiated for the needs of all levels of teachers, and intrinsically satisfies an educator’s craving for learning. When done wrong, in-house “PD” and is little more than a few speakers force-feeding teachers information that they could easily obtain by other means (a memo!), aka Death By PowerPoint.

Like students, not all teachers have the same learning needs. What’s the sense in making a teacher with 30 years of IB experience sit in a meeting about the fundamentals of the IB program? While we all need a refresher now and then, meetings that are little more than training or housekeeping disguised as professional development can really hurt the moral of a professional learning community, and contribute to burnout, turnover and widespread apathy among educators. It also just shows a total lack of respect for the teaching profession, as if teachers are not smart enough to make their own decisions about where they are and what they need to learn next.

This is why I like book clubs

I’ve been running book clubs for teachers at my school for three years now, and I find them to be beneficial on so many levels. One of the most popular articles on educationrickshaw.com has been 5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers, which tells me that other educators are itchin’ for professional reading as well. Last week, we started up this year’s first book club on “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” by Robyn R. Jackson, inspired in many ways by my course at AEC 2016. The discussion was the highlight of my week.

The thing about book clubs is that it turns PD into an active exercise rather than a passive one. In the book clubs that I have been a part of, teachers read at their own pace while being guided and held accountable by their peers. Teachers choose if and when they want to attend, and are given chances to contribute to the conversation outside of meeting hours through online forums and journals. Good professional book clubs kind of model how I think learning should take place in the classroom; If students don’t deserve an education where they are merely seen as passive receptacles for dry information, then why should teachers?

 

Make in-house PD worthwhile with differentiation

Clearly there are times when a school will need teachers to be all on the same page, especially if there is a sense that the teaching and learning has become off-mission. But, for the most part, beginning teachers have their needs, experienced teachers have their needs, single subject teachers have their needs and generalists have their needs. It is important that we put as much thought into our in-house PD as we put into our lessons for the students. When teachers’ needs are met, and we begin to treat them as responsible, creative, intelligent theorists who are able to grapple with the latest ideas and trends in education, then we will begin to re-professionalize the profession from the ground up.


What do you think? What is in-house PD like at your school? Do you meet just to meet, or do you meet to learn about things that are important to you? Stephanie and I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

– Zach Groshell @MrZachG

Student Inventions Face Evaluation in the Shark Tank

This week, my students will be presenting their inventions to an audience of parents and community members. Instead of doing a traditional exhibition, where students stand for an hour and answer questions next to their display, we are doing something different: A Year 5 Shark Tank.

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Many of us already know the reality show, “Shark Tank”, that has celebrity entrepreneurs deciding on potential investments from wannabe inventors. The intrigue of the show is found in the neat and sometimes quirky innovations that come from these novice presenters mixed with the pressure that is put on them by the judges, or “the Sharks”. A similar scenario is going to take place at our PYP school for the students’ summative assessment.

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As students have gotten to work on their inventions, there have been some beautiful learning experiences, including:

Math Skills – Adding cost of materials and cost of labor (based on a agreed upon minimum wage) and subtracting from retail price to determine profit. Also, creating surveys and graphs to gauge interest in the product.

Presentation Skills – Creating a presentation with certain criteria made by students, using Keynote slides with interactive features so that visitors can pick the questions that are relevant to them as they come to the invention convention.

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Design Thinking – Students followed the design cycle of “Investigate – Plan – Create – Evaluate” to ensure that their product turned out how they envisioned it. Many students also wanted to create a beta version of an app that would go along with their invention, so we found ways to do an interactive mock up for these as well. Students really got into the spirit of collaboration and design thinking throughout the unit.


At the end of the Shark Tank, some community “Sharks” will decide on the invention that would make the world of work and leisure easier. I’m trying make sure that this small piece of competition does not get in the way of the important part – the process of design. It is merely a formality that frames the whole unit and ends with a bang!

What do you think? Check out the flyer for the event below, and be sure to comment!

– Zach Groshell @MrZachG

However, that being said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our world is developing an unhealthy attachment to it. (1)