Metablog

This will be my final official blog post for Granite State College EDU704.  I had about 10 ideas for this one, and considered doing a ‘potpurri’ with 1 paragraph about each, but instead this will be about blogging and learning in the open.

 

A few years ago, I realized that non-fiction books were great fun to read and I was very interested in behavioral economics and the psychology of memory and learning.  I also read a couple on the spread of ideas on the internet, Contagious and Made to Stick, which I’m realizing as I research this post, I don’t remember the specifics from all that well.

 

The biggest thing that I’ve noticed personally from blogging and writing research papers is the topic of my last blog – they force me to come to a conclusion and when I’m done I very firmly believe that.  When I muster the effort to think about how strongly I should believe the novel thesis statement I was asked to create, I feel like there’s very little reason to.  My 10 hours of work on a paper or a couple hours on a blog represent maybe .1% or .01% of the knowledge related to the subject.  But, my subconscious (Kahneman’s System 1) is firmly convinced.  It will be very difficult to knock me off my belief that:

 

Extrinsic rewards are fine to use, but must be faded quickly or they poison the environment.

Requiring full coverage of science standards is poisoning the real learning of the actually important broader related concepts

 

I’m a particular sucker for Nobel Laureates and am rereading Kahenman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) and just last night came to the section titled “Can Psychology be Taught?”  Kahneman describes a couple different experiments where highly intelligent test subjects are taught information about a surprising psychological study result.  Then they are shown completely irrelevant and boring information about some people and asked how they would act under the exact situation of the experimental condition.  It turns out that the test subjects did not adjust their expectations at all to the new information.  In a different test condition, however, the students were shown on video the surprising reactions of a couple specific people instead of the study results, and they actually integrated the surprising information into their analysis of the situation.  To me this rings most to the power of authenticity in deep learning.

 

The recent rush of texts on behavioral economics center around the systemic biases that people show individually and in aggregate.  And wow, there sure are quite a lot of them.  These biases are exaggerated in a digital environment due to numerous factors.  I have had this idea confirmed in many scenarios, but fairly recently during a twitter chat on education.  One question posed to the attendees was what actual teachers do when students are not meeting classroom expectations.  The question sat for I think 12 minutes and not a single person mentioned anything about any consequence.  I really wanted to tweet that I have had great success with a particular boundary-testing student by having him ‘give me back’ a very small amount of time at recess, like 1 minute.  I feel this is a major improvement over the common practice (during an oppositional event) of threatening a more severe consequence for this particular student, but I was too scared to tweet it.  I felt it was taboo to talk about consequences, even though they are one of the few methods with proven results.

 

I guess I don’t think that public forums are a good place to process deep concepts.  I feel the information there will be biased due to divided attention, social pressures and other effects.  Tweets feel very inauthentic to me, and even if I briefly remember a piece of information from there, I am highly unlikely to incorporate it into my System 1.  Schools and districts often have book clubs where new ideas are researched and explored in a live setting.  I feel like this would be a much more authentic experience for exploring deep concepts.

 

I do feel like there is a strong benefit to semi-private professional networks, like GSC’s Facebook group.  The people share a common experience, and it is possible to find good answers to specific questions quickly from people who are likely to have actually solved the question at hand personally.

References

Berger, J. (2016). Contagious. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

 

.ps After saving this, I reread the instructions for the assignment and since I’m required to post it to #OpenPed, I’m feeling quite a bit of pressure to change my conclusion.  Will I be lambasted by the proponents of the benefits of doing everything in the open?  I guess I’ll find out.

 

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Now that’s got some pretty solid mortar to it.

Last week we had a family over for dinner and some board games, and the dad had been talking about a book he has been reading about the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation, and how that has been causing him to rethink a lot of his parenting.  Apparently he’s been rereading sections, taking notes and linking the findings in with his past actions and his plans for the future, taking many, many hours going through it.

So, of course, we’re chatting a bit around the topic of his interest in this book, and I mention that yes in school I have read about this and the whole thing boils down to “Go ahead and use an extrinsic system for something new, but you must get rid of it pretty quickly.”  Whatever he said about the author’s evidence for the importance of intrinsic motivation and how it is destroyed by intrinsics (I wish I could remember the title) bounced right off my rock-solid understanding of this effect.

I wasn’t sure why I was so positive in my views, until I remembered that a few months ago I’d written an 8 page research paper on the topic, so obviously I am an expert.  It’s actually a little over 6 pages.  It’s a little disconcerting that I’d almost forgotten about a research paper that probably took my 10 or so hours to complete, but my conviction in my conclusion remains very strong, especially in my subconscious (system 1 per Kahneman).  The topic here is very much up for debate, and I came up with my thesis statement after only at most 3-4 hours’ research in addition to personal reflection.  There’s no way I’ve read as much as 1% of the research on the topic, and plenty of excellent educators and education administrators have come to different conclusions than me on both sides.  I wonder how much information I came across that didn’t really support my conclusion that I set aside immediately.

I hope that writing this will help me to remember that even the things I feel 100% sure of aren’t based on all the information, or even most of it.  It’s always important to consider new information even when (or especially when) it conflicts with a pre-existing idea.

Phase 10 of the 5 Phases of EDI

I had to do an assignment on Direct Instruction (DI) recently, but the textbook I used for that last term was no longer available for free online.  In looking around online I found that there are a LOT of different descriptions of the phases of DI (sometimes called Explicit DI).  A lot of the descriptions include 5 or sometimes 6 main steps, but one of them had TEN.

When I’d first thought about the impact of the potential 1:1 classroom, this 10th phase immediately came to mind as an easy, immediate huge impact that the digitization of the classroom would obviously bring.  And in fact, the only class of my own children I’ve seen this phase employed in is the math class where my 5th grader does all but 1 easy sheet per week of homework on the computer.

Phase 10 is entitled “Ensure Distributive Practice”, which is clarified as “provide brief, intermittent practice over the rest of the school year to keep skills fresh.”  If you’re already doing work on a device, it would seem extremely simple for that device to bring up a question or two from previous lessons, at random or even based on stuff it thinks you’re starting to forget.

You might guess from the tone of this blog that the 1 physical sheet of homework that my daughter gets in math every week is 12 really quick review problems from earlier in the year, a great implementation of this tenth phase.  That’s not a feature that was added when the district sprung for a curriculum that included online homework problems, but something that the teacher either created herself or saved from a previous curriculum.

 

Peter Brown describes the essence of remembering information is “interrupting the process of forgetting”  (Brown, McDaniel, & Roediger, 2014)  It doesn’t help to reread content or do the 3+5 flashcard 100 times in a row.  Information starts to be stored more permanently when you recall it soon before it’s forgotten.  One a day for 100 days, and you’ll have it down cold for sure.  Or better yet, 4 times 1 day, 2 times the next, 1 the 3rd day, once the 5th day, once on the 9th, …

 

This feels so much like the sort of thing that an automated system could do trivially, but would be a massive ongoing endeavor for a paper-based teacher.  When creating every single lesson plan, go back 1 week and come up with a 1 or 2 minute activity or question around that old content?  In fact, this article on the forgetting curve arguing my point, but for professional seminars “But, the question is, who has a fancy online system in place to make these memory triggers magically happen? Answer: very few people.”  I hope that if they don’t already, more students will get this sort of system accessible to them.

 

Brown, P., McDaniel, M., & Roediger, H. (2014). Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.

 

Who teaches studying?

My oldest daughter is in 5th grade now, and has math homework 4 nights a week, Monday through Thursday.  The only exception is the night after they took a quiz or test during class.

The night before a test or quiz, however, the homework assignment is succinctly written in a single word: “study”.  Recently, the material is getting difficult enough that this homework is something that she really needs to actually do.  But, when I ask her how she’s planning to study for the test, she has exactly zero ideas on how to proceed.

With what I’m thinking now is a narrow focus on the short term, I will often help her with this homework of ‘study for the test’ by identifying weaknesses in her knowledge and basically giving her an explicit lesson.  She was having trouble remembering all the area formulas for trapezoids, rectangles, squares, triangles, parallelograms.  So, I racked my brain for an idea that spanned across all of them, and realized that all the formulas were just the height times the width across the center.  She did OK on that test, but the essential question of “How do you study for a test?” remains completely  untouched.

So, she’s in 5th grade now, and already has 3 different academic teachers and hasn’t learned anything about how to learn on her own.  In 6 months, she’ll be in middle school with 5 or 6 different academic subject areas.  Which one(s) will have the time to integrate studying techniques into their curricula?

In his 2014 book, Make It StickPeter Brown points out that the preferred method of studying employed by college students include highlighting, underlining, sustained review of notes and texts, which are well-known to be ineffective.  While it’s unlikely that educators have encouraged their students to use these poor techniques, he posits that many of them end up flocking their, because they are simple to try and they end up staying there, because they create an illusion of knowledge.  Reading a text or highlighted portion the 2nd time gives it a sense of familiarity and may feel like the student is knowledgeable, but in reality there is little to no benefit of this method.

If a majority of college students are employing poor studying strategies, then I think it’s clear from a personal perspective that I need to learn and start using some good ones.  I can employ them for myself, teach them to my children and to my future students.

 

Brown, P., McDaniel, M., & Roediger, H. (2014). Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.

 

I Don’t Know

About 20 years ago I got a recommendation for a primary care physician from my sister, and managed to talk my way into her practice, despite her officially not taking any more patients.  I went in for a well-visit, and mentioned an itchy spot I had on my back that was annoying but not a big enough deal for me to seek out a special appointment or dermatologist.  She took a look, said “Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s eczema or psoriasis.”  Then she took out what looked like a 1,700 page book and spent 5 or so minutes figuring out which one it was, and then wrote me a prescription.

In the past 2 decades I’m happy to have lived a pretty healthy life *knock on wood*, but I’ve seen a dozen or more medical professionals since then, and I can’t recall any of them ever giving a hint that they could maybe think about it some more, or do some research and give me a more informed analysis.  Some might say “It’s impossible to tell with this information, but if I had an MRI …” or something about needing more information, but never more or better analysis.  When I had a serious issue with my foot, the podiatrist and both lower extremity orthopaedists each gave me very confident, but totally different prognoses.

Of course, doctors are a weird case in that maybe they’re trying to sell you on their expertise.  Maybe they’re afraid to say to you “I don’t know, but I’m going to go learn!”, because it’ll hurt your impression of them.  But, I feel like if I’m at a party chatting with a random person about say a current event, they’ll never say “I’m not sure what our society/government should do in response to that, because I just don’t have that expertise.”  Everyone will take the very minimal information and knowledge they have and appear pretty confident in their conclusion.  I believe Daniel Kahneman calls this frequent processing mistake, “What You See Is All There Is” (WYSIATI).

Since just starting to gather and analyze more assessment data on students, I keep coming back to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  If you try to figure out  precisely where something is, you automatically change it’s motion.   If you ask someone at a party their opinion on a current event, the process of them hearing the question and answering you (however they answer) changes their ideas on the topic, and how confident they are in that understanding.  I feel (but don’t have evidence for) that if people would ever say “That’s an interesting question, that I’m going to think a bit more about”, they would be more likely to retain new information about it in the future.

Back to actual education…  Because of my concerns about pushing student’s knowledge potentially the wrong way during a pre-assessment, I’ve been including this image next to every question.  These questions aren’t graded, and if you don’t know the answer, please just circle this image for “I don’t know”.  I just want to make sure I can plan the best lessons.

See the source image

I’ll be teaching an introductory unit on Waves to a 4th grade class in a few weeks, and one of my pre-assessment questions was for them to “Draw 2 transverse waves with the same amplitude, but different wavelength.”  I didn’t expect anyone to be able to do this, and thought I’d get 18 “I don’t know” icons circled, and that might help open their minds to the new information soon to come.  But, every single student drew 2 “waves”, and none of them got it right.  How could they?  They’re 9 and have never learned anything about waves in school yet.  Why did they feel they had to make a guess when the “I don’t know” was the most appropriate answer?

I admit I’m very tempted to conclude from the seeming openmindedness of my then octogenarian doctor, and closemindedness of what I see today that society has changed somehow to encourage people to always take a side, pick an answer or circle a bubble.  But, that would be falling prey to WYSIATY, and I’ll just say “I don’t know”.  Maybe if the students ever got comfortable with “I don’t know”, they’d just answer that for everything, instead of thinking about it.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/frontal-cortex/why-smart-people-are-stupid

Project Based Learning Hits the Big Time

A new meta-study from Stanford University on the long term effects of Project Based Learning (PBL) versus Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI), and had some very encouraging findings.  The meta-study incorporated results from 49 different studies.  While PBL didn’t significantly exceed EDI on standardized measures immediately following instruction, strong evidence of longer term retention of material (p<0.01 for 1-2 years out, and p < 0.05 for 3-4 years post instruction).    On average, students scored .75 standard deviations higher on tests of the material 1 year after PBL versus EDI and the analysis showed a statistical significane to gains of at least 0.5 standard deviations.  (Brooks 2017)

I suppose it’s really obvious that things you learn from doing a project will stick better in your head over time, than drill and kill strategies or even fairly well crafted Direct Instruction, but it’s great to see such strong evidence for it.  I am planning to get a group together to bring this study to my school board, and see if they will get an exploration committee going immediately so we can start implementing this ASAP!

 

Reference:

Brooks, Lauren; Jones, Addison; Childers, Abernathy. Journal of Classroom Interaction. Summer2017, Vol. 52 Issue 2, p16-30. 15p. , Database: Education Research Complete

 

 

So, I just took 19 minutes and made that up from whole cloth.  It seems like it could be true, might be something that the potential readers of my blog might like, and I put some p-values in there, and referenced a made up source.  I decided to try my hand at bald-faced lying after reading partway through a book about lying on the internet, “A Field Guide to Lies” I grabbed from the library when I was getting some research materials for my paper for EDU702. (Levitin, 2017)

The hook for the book is a quote often attributed to Mark Twain,

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.

It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

  • It was actually Josh Billings who said that.

 

I’ll be writing my EDU702 research paper on how the NGSS crosscutting concepts are much more important than the individual standards, and how science teachers and schools need to make sure their science courses allow for the depth in some of the standards in order for the students to really “get” the more important concepts.  These concepts are a part of the defense against our future leaders deeply “learning” incorrect information and ideas.  Making sure our students don’t fall for a Ponzi scheme or join a radical cult is more important than if they know any individual standard:

Anyhow, I will try to think not just about what my students will learn from me, but how I can help steal them against building incorrect knowledge as well.

 

Levitin, D. J. (2017). Weaponized lies: how to think critically in the post-truth era. NY, NY: Dutton.

Planning your retirement could cost you $396,380.13 . It’s probably worth it.

I taught a science lesson to a 4th grade classroom last week.  We compared the bounce heights, and number of bounces of a tennis ball that was cold versus one that was room temperature.  I intended the difference to be fairly obvious without measurement, but the cooler full of tennis balls I had with me was not as cold as my freezer where I’d tested it out the day before.  This could have been a bonus if I’d had more time to analyze the results with the class later on, since the difference appeared clearly in the average of all the measurements, but not very clearly at all in the individual measurements.

What I really wanted my lesson to be about was thinking of the system as a whole often makes things much clearer than analyzing the whole process step by step.  NGSS cross-cutting concept #5 “Tracking energy and matter flows, into, out of, and within systems helps one understand their system’s behavior.”  Instead of trying to figure out where all potential energy of a dropped object goes by analyzing all 12 bounces closely, just apply the 1st and 2nd law of thermodynamics and wham: the room just got a tiny, tiny bit warmer.  So much easier.  Being able to approach problems with a microscope and a wide-angle lens, and merge the information is a critical thinking skill that is lacking in a lot of adults, in my experience.

As you might guess, my exit ticket didn’t show that every student really got all that I was trying to cram into a 35 minute hands-on activity, but I like to think our discussions and their work might aid them a tiny bit towards constructing a world-view with more of this in mind.

I haven’t been thinking about retirement much lately.  I’m a student at Granite State College, looking to start a new career, not finish one!  However, on my way home from school thought of a whole system, where I’d been trained to focus on smaller parts, and started to think something about it was hinky.

Everyone who talks about financial planning publicly seems to totally 100% agree that everyone should invest their money heavily in stocks when they are younger, and gradually transition over to the safer investment of bonds (or even some “cash”) as they get older.  It doesn’t matter if the person has $10,000, $100,000, $1,000,000 or $10,000,000 the advice holds the same.  It’s too risky to have your money in stocks as you near retirement.  Indeed there are plenty of low cost mutual funds available designed around this principle.  An old heuristic says to put your age in % into bonds, and the rest in stocks.  More recently, the heuristic has become a bit more aggressive, but largely the same.

The idea that this was a generalized strategy that most people should employ was pretty well ingrained in my head.  So much so, that the simple commutative property that applies came into question in the car.  The amount of money accrued in a retirement fund grows (or shrinks) as a product of a rate.  At the end of a great year you may have 120% (times 1.2) of what you had before, and in a really bad year maybe 60% (times 0.6).

(Principle) * R1 * R2 * R3 …. * R40 = How much I have to retire on.

But, it doesn’t matter what order you multiply, so if you decided to do your low-risk year at the beginning of your retirement planning (which would be totally insane, right?), and the riskiest year at the end, then the spread of your potential retirement savings would be exactly the same*.

Since recently reading Nudge by Richard Thaler, I’ve been noticing salience bias pretty much everywhere.  I’m noticing the term comes up a lot when reading my favorite news outlet, 538.  The writers their make their living analyzing people’s biases.  For both the people approaching retirement and the professionals doling out advice, the actual retirement gradually becomes more salient as it approaches in time.  If a 38 year old loses half of their $200,000 401k in a horrible market downturn they may be upset but in most cases, their retirement is not something that they’re worried about on a daily basis.  Any professional advice can truthfully say that the market does this sort of thing, but every time it did this before, it’s always come back.

When this sort of thing happens to a 62 year old, it’s very salient.  Retirement plans may need to be put off for a long time, or changed drastically.  Any professional who suggested an aggressive strategy against the norms will certainly face the wraith of a majority of those who accepted the advice, making that very salient to them as well.

So, if your 1 goal is to retire with the (on average) most money possible and avoid the pains from loss aversion, you might do best to contribute a fixed amount of money to a retirement account in a stock index fund and make sure that you never look at it until you’re 65 or so.  Then quickly plan your retirement based on what’s there.  Here’s a spreadsheet that calculates the exact big number from the title of this post.

Fortunately, however, the sum of people’s lives is a very, very far cry from who can consume the most amount worth of stuff enjoys life the most.  There’s evidence that planning a vacation is an extremely important part of the enjoyment of it, perhaps the bulk.  It’s very likely the same is true of your retirement, and if you never look then you’ll never get that part of it.

I suppose in the end of this long, meandering train of thought I have just 2 conclusions.  Don’t buy a target retirement date fund with the intention of never looking at how much money you have – that defeats the whole purpose!  Keep thinking about the critical thinking aspects when you’re teaching both for your own life and to remember that these need to be repeated throughout the year and the student’s life!

 

*Less additional monies you save (a big caveat, I’m glossing over on purpose)