Saturday, July 18, 2015

But what about the colleges?

This question comes up a lot whenever people suggest making changes to K-12 education. I hear it at conferences and professional development sessions. Versions of this question even show up on Twitter:
As the above example shows, the question is often in response to taking on some sacred cow in education, like eliminating homework.

The question was asked multiple times this past week at the LMF4PD Conference. Rick Wormeli, the featured speaker the opening day, challenged many of our traditional grading practices (like averaging zeros and giving only partial credit for re-takes) and this made some of the teachers uncomfortable. I understood their concerns given the current emphasis on ensuring that students are "career and college ready," but I wanted to reassure them that colleges (and more importantly the teachers' kids) would be just fine if they transitioned from preparing students to empowering learners. So along with Dr. Clark Danderson from Aquinas College, we held an edcamp session on the third day of the conference to address what colleges and universities expect from learners.
First, not all institutes of higher education are the same. I talked about how when my own kids were considering college, I discussed the difference between a university that focuses on research and one that views teaching as its primary purpose. High school seniors interested in attending University X need to know how to do research into what they can expect from a university's teachers and courses.

Second, even within a university, different departments might have very different philosophies of education. For example, my department is committed to keeping class-sizes manageable in order to make lessons more interactive and alternative assessments, like portfolios, doable. Other departments at GVSU continue to to use large lectures and multiple-choice tests (no judgement - really). Again, it's up to the prospective learners to do the research.

My last point was that even if learners find themselves in college classrooms using traditional methods of instruction or assessment, those that have learned to self-assess and adjust will find ways to be successful. On the other hand, those that have only been prepared for this "worst case scenario" (the traditional approach) will struggle at universities that expect more than "consume and regurgitate" from their scholars. Unfortunately, we see that happening a lot in our department. Students struggle in our courses and with our major because they are waiting to consume, and we want them to construct.

Now, when it comes to being career ready ...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How much do we owe Andrew?

Andrew getting ready to add some doors
to a utility room at our camp,
Our son, Andrew, has been doing some work for us this summer. The other day was payday, and he let us know that he had put in 11 hours of work the past week. We are paying him $18.75 per hour. (He's 27 and has a degree in Building Technology from NMU, so these are not simple chores.)

As we did the math to pay Andrew for his services, I was interested in the different approaches we picked to determine what we owed him. Kathy grabbed a pencil and paper to do the standard algorithm. Andrew looked at me and asked how I would do it. "Honestly," I said, "when there's money involved, I'd grab a calculator." Andrew proceed to talk through how he would calculate 11 x 18.75 mentally. (He has always had an affinity for numbers, though he struggled with school math that relied on "rules without reasons".)

That same week, I participated with a group of about three dozen elementary teachers in training for Math Recovery. When it came to supporting students' multi-digit multiplication and division strategies, several of the teachers discussed how kids' mental math needed to lead to more efficient strategies. This seems reasonable; it's even in the Standards for Mathematical Practice(emphasis mine):
... procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), ... 
But what does "efficiently" mean when it comes to multi-digit computation? Who calculated 11 x 18.75 efficiently: Kathy, Andrew, or me? What criteria are you using for efficiently? This is not a rhetorical question - I really want to know.