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More on the flipped classroom

18 Aug

Recently, I blogged about a medical school that has adopted the flipped classroom model of instruction. In the flipped classroom, instruction is delivered in video presentations that the students watch on their own time and classroom time is used for practice and review.

As I indicated, I am open to the possibility of that the flipped classroom might offer advantages over traditional instruction. It seems plausible that students might benefit from high quality video presentations that they can watch over again and pace their progress through material.

Subsequent to my post, I have talked to a couple of students who have taken flipped classes, and their reviews were negative. They did not like having to wait to engage with the teacher over the ideas raised in the material. Of course, this is anecdotal and it could be that many students do benefit from this instructional technique.

However, I was just reading through the most recent issue of Teaching of Psychology and came across this article: “The Benefits, Drawbacks, and Challenges of Using the Flipped Classroom in an Introduction to Psychology Course.”

Here is the abstract:

Flipped pedagogy has become a popular approach in education. While preliminary research suggests that the flipped classroom has a positive effect on learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and quantitative courses, the research on the flipped classroom in a content heavy social science course is minimal and contradictory. We flipped four class topics in an introduction to psychology course, evaluated resulting student attitudes, and compared students’ performance on the flipped units to their performance on traditionally delivered content. We found mixed results for the effectiveness of the flipped classroom that were moderated by student characteristics and experiences with previous online or flipped courses. Students reported an overall preference for traditional classroom delivery but suggested retaining the flipped approach for some class periods.

By the way, I highly recommend Teaching of Psychology to instructors of other subjects. It is true that it focuses on teaching psychology content, but since many of the authors have backgrounds in learning theory, I think the research they publish would be of interest outside of the psychology.

Is the University of Maine making policy based on an urban legend?

7 Aug

A recent article in the Washington Post about the plans of the medical school at the University of Vermont’s to abolish lectures contains this paragraph:

“Retention after a lecture is maybe 10 percent,” said Charles G. Prober, senior associate dean for medical education at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “If that’s accurate, if it’s even in the ballpark of accurate, that’s a problem.”

There may well be good arguments for the flipped classroom approach the college is moving towards (although I will point out that they haven’t really abolished lectures, just moved them on line). But I object to basing an educational policy on the unsupportable claim that “Retention after a lecture is maybe 10 percent.” I am unaware of any evidence for this claim.

I far as I am able to tell Dean Prober is repeating a version of a popular educational urban legend that runs:

People remember:
10 percent of what they read;
20 percent of what they hear;
30 percent of what they see;
50 percent of what they see and hear;
70 percent of what they say;
and 90 percent of what they do and say

I published a paper exposing this myth in 2010, which you read here. One would hope that educational policy would be based on evidence not mythology.

Education Secretary increases investment in questionable neurofeedback company

31 Jul

According to Politico:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has increased her financial stake in a “neurofeedback” company that says its technology treats attention deficit disorder and the symptoms of autism. DeVos reported a new investment of between $250,001 and $500,000 in the Michigan-based Neurocore, according to a financial disclosure form that was certified by government ethics officials on Wednesday.

The whole story is here (scroll down to find the story). For background on Neurcore read this.

The Guardian’s terrible article on giftedness

28 Jul

Let me stipulate, before I begin, that I believe that most students could substantially improve their academic performance. But I cannot accept the assertion implied in a recent Guardian headline: “Why there’s no such thing as a gifted child.”

What evidence does the Guardian supply for its assertion? It’s almost entirely anecdotal. For example, we are told that:

Most Nobel laureates were unexceptional in childhood. Einstein was slow to talk and was dubbed the dopey one by the family maid. He failed the general part of the entry test to Zurich Polytechnic – though they let him in because of high physics and maths scores. He struggled at work initially, failing to get academic post and being passed over for promotion at the Swiss Patent Office because he wasn’t good enough at machine technology. But he kept plugging away and eventually rewrote the laws of Newtonian mechanics with his theory of relativity.

There is a lot wrong with this account. The story of a family maid years after Einstein was a grown and famous man is hardly strong evidence. Just how slow was he to talk? Doesn’t “high physics and maths scores” count as evidence of giftedness? As a child Einstein taught himself calculus and his employment problems were largely due to Antisemitism.

Te article also says:

Lewis Terman, a pioneering American educational psychologist, set up a study in 1921 following 1,470 Californians, who excelled in the newly available IQ tests, throughout their lives. None ended up as the great thinkers of their age that Terman expected they would. But he did miss two future Nobel prize winners – Luis Alvarez and William Shockley, both physicists – whom he dismissed from the study as their test scores were not high enough.

I didn’t know about Luis Alvarez, but I did know the story about Shockley. Terman study was a longitudinal study of gifted children who had an IQ above a defined cut score. Shockley’s IQ was high but just not high enough to be in Terman group. The students identified by Terman did well in life, having above average academic and professional achievement. It might be worth pointing out that Nobel prizes are not that common and while IQ does a good job of capturing highly valued cognitive skills it may not be a good measure of creativity.

Later the article makes this astonishing admission:

While the jury is out on giftedness being innate and other factors potentially making the difference, what is certain is that the behaviours associated with high levels of performance are replicable and most can be taught – even traits such as curiosity.

Wait a second, the article is supposed to be arguing that giftedness doesn’t exist, but the author not only concedes that it exists, but also that some aspects could be innate. There certainly are “behaviours associated with high levels of performance” but we do not know to what extent these behaviors can be taught.



Growth mindset: A failure to replicate

10 Jul

Carole Dweck’s work has received a great deal of attention. Essentially she argues that an individual’s beliefs about intelligence is a powerful predictor of scholastic attainment. In a Scientific American article she wrote:

 Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.

Now a study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, fails to replicate these findings. Here is the abstract:

Implicit theories of intelligence have been proposed to predict a large number of different outcomes in education. The belief that intelligence is malleable (growth mindset) is supposed to lead to better academic achievement and students’ mindset is therefore a potential target for interventions. The present study used a large sample of university applicants (N = 5653) taking a scholastic aptitude test to further examine the relationship between mindset and achievement in the academic domain. We found that results in the test were slightly negatively associated with growth mindset (r = − 0.03). Mindset showed no relationship with the number of test administrations participants signed up for and it did not predict change in the test results. The results show that the strength of the association between academic achievement and mindset might be weaker than previously thought.

Note, however, the limitations reported by the authors:

In sum, we found that mindset had virtually no association with results in a scholastic aptitude test used for university admissions. While the association between mindset and goal achievement was previously shown to be weak (Burnette et al., 2013), our study presents a large amount of new data suggesting that the association may be even weaker than previously thought. Given that recent large scale experiments suggest that learning growth mindset improves academic achievement (Paunesku et al., 2015; Yeager et al., 2016a, b), our study does not invalidate the notion that implicit theories of intelligence might be a promising target for educational interventions. However, it suggests that mindset might not be as useful for predicting future success or that its predictive abilities are at least limited to specific circumstances. Yet, we note that our study has several limitations including possible self selection and range-restriction effects, a short measure of mindset, and a short duration between subsequent administrations of the test. We also did not include measures of hypothesized mediating variables, such as the amount of practice, and the mindset measure was not directly tailored to assess beliefs about the possibility of improvement in the GAP test. Future studies may overcome these limitations and thus better explain differences between results of the present and past studies.


The importance of committing facts to memory

19 May

In an article in last week’s New York Times, we find this:

The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”

Regular readers know that I think this fundamentally misguided. Knowledge remains and will remain essential to negotiating the world. To see why let’s turn to another article in the Times: “If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy.”

Here’s the map of where the surveyed individuals placed North Korea.

nkorea map

According to the Times:

Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events.

By the way the quadratic equation is not that hard to learn.

Manipulatives may hinder learning

10 Apr

Walk into an early elementary school classroom and you are likely to see lots of manipulatives. From Popsicle sticks to Cuisenaire rods we have a strong intuitive sense that these objects should help children learn mathematics.

Not so fast, says Sara Fulmer over at The Learning Scientist;

Although manipulatives can increase students’ attention, this attention may not benefit their learning. In fact, the very aspect of manipulatives that capture students’ attention—bright colors, visual appeal, realistic features—may be their downfall. Manipulatives that are more visually interesting or realistic can increase off-task behavior, such as building or sorting (1). This is especially true if students interact with that object in other contexts, such as during play time or outside of the classroom.

Students who learn with manipulatives can become too reliant on the object and context, and as a result, have difficulty transferring their knowledge to new contexts, different testing formats, or to abstract representations (e.g., algebraic expressions) of the problem

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