I’m talking ’bout practice

May 11, 2008

Last week I read a blog post on the Freakonomics blog previewing an upcoming article on stats and the Celtics. While I am not an avid fan of the NBA, do not like the current style of the game preferring instead the team aspect of college ball, I do follow certain teams and players. Historically, I have been a fan of Boston and since they drafted KU standout Paul Pierce I keep track of their progress.

The internet being what it is I quickly found myself following links and began reading a post detailing the debate on practice versus talent. As both a teacher and a coach I enjoyed the message of the article.

“In other words, whatever innate differences two people may exhibit in their abilities to memorize, those differences are swamped by how well each person “encodes” the information. And the best way to learn how to encode information meaningfully, Ericsson determined, was a process known as deliberate practice.”

This statement supports several of my beliefs. One is that there is no such thing as luck. I feel that good preparation allows people to take advantage of situations. I have several examples from my coaching , but since you will have take my word for those instances I will cite a recent event familiar to those who follow college basketball and one in which I was able to witness first hand. Mario Chalmers game tying three point shot at the National Championship was dubbed by many in the media as a miracle.

While I admit that the shot was not textbook form, YouTube proved that the play itself was not a first time attempt. It is clear that this play, and thus the victory, was the result of practice as much as it was talent.

Aside from once again plugging the glorious year of sports that fans of the University of Kansas were able to enjoy, my athletic reference come with reason. There are multiple reasons why sports are so prevalent at educational institutions. It is because that many of the skills that enable students to become successful student-athletes are transferable from the sporting world to the classroom. It has become cliché to call these transferable lessons “life skills.” Personally, I feel I starting becoming successful in the classroom when I realized that I could take my coaching philosophy into the classroom to make students successful. While I realized that teaching history and English would be slightly different than teaching wrestling, I also become conscious that all three subjects were simply different disciplines. The bottom line was that my students needed practice, repetition, and active learning to improve on the skills in the classroom.

Think about it. If I tried to teach my student-athletes how to wrestle by lecturing for the majority of practice and then give them a multiple choice exam would they really master the skills required to improve? We structure our practices with a short demonstration (guided lecture) followed by longer sessions of drilling (active group work). In addition to this, after several weeks of nothing but practice we begin weekly competitions (assessment). So why is it that many in education feel that it is necessary to conduct their class by controlling the information?

I admit that I do follow some of the old school means of teaching. I administer one multiple choice exam per quarter. I think that every course has to do this as students must be familiar with the style of this type of assessment due to state testing and SAT/ACT exams. But I also feel that this type of assessment is a poor channel for gagging student understanding of information. However, I feel that if my students can master the “messy assessments” that people such as Wesley Fryer advocate then my students can pass a standardized exam once they understand the methods to taking such exams.

The bottom line is that students cannot truly understand the content unless they are active in the learning. If you simply teach students how to pass an exam then you are doing nothing more than teaching them how to memorize information. True learning comes from understanding. While I was an average wrestler, I feel that I understand the sport as proof from my coaching record. As you end this year and begin to reflect on your lessons and courses for next year I challenge you to make a change toward active practice. During wrestling practices I often walk around the room and make adjustments to technique on an individual basis while the rest of the room proceeds without someone looking over their shoulder. In the classroom, I walk around drinking my coffee and individually guide my students in the same method. My challenge to you…drink more coffee and lecture a bit less.

Enjoy your day,


iTune U: The Potential for Change

August 9, 2007

A few months ago Apple announced the launching of iTunes U as a separate feature. I am excited about this announcement for a variety of reasons. Podcasting is becoming a common theme for those who discuss Web 2.0 applications. However, some in education feel that podcasting is a fad, too complicated, or any of several excuses for not embracing this powerful tool. The launching of iTunes U provides a powerful endorsement of podcasting in education.

While universities have been taking advantage of iTunes and podcasting for the past few years, the introduction of iTunes U puts podcasting in education into a larger light. The number of K-12 podcasts in growing rapidly each day. When I first started exploring podcasting two years ago the Education category on iTunes had the sub-categories of K12 and Higher Education. Since then the sub-categories has expanded to include Ed Tech, Training and Language Courses. The number of educational podcasts is so great that if I do not place time limits on my searches I end up spending most of my evening searching and listening to various educational podcasts. The introduction of a specific University feed on iTunes can direct lifelong learners or educators.

Open/Free Learning

I embrace the fact that I am a nerd. At any given moment my TIVO will have between 10-20 hours or recordings from the History Channel. I recall in college using Yahoo to locate the syllabus or project assignments for courses at universities I did not attend, simply because of an interest in the topic. The only deterring factor to this practice, setting aside that I kept this practice a secret from my roommates, was the time involved in the process of searching for assessments. iTunes U will allow people with similar addictions the opportunity to attend courses as if they were at the school.

Continued Content Development

As an educator I am excited about the chance to continue my education. I have found that time is against me, preventing me for keeping active all of the podcast subscriptions on my iTunes. That said, the ability to subscribe to a college level course is a great tool. Last year I taught a course in economics. While I enjoy this topic, I have not studies this discipline since my junior year in college. The ability to enroll in college level economic courses is a great advantage for me. I cannot only use such courses to recall the explanations of topics that my and other professors use, but I can experience the changes in these explanations since my graduation.

Podcasting ideas

I began using podcasting in my English courses in reaction to the NPR series “This I Believe“. After my wife tipped me off to the series, I thought it would be a good essay topic for my students. This lesson is my favorite of the year and my students tend to enjoy the process. In planning this lesson, I realized that the odds were against one of our essay hitting the radio waves, so we began podcasting the essays. While I do not know that I will be able to get such ideas from courses on iTunes U, I am optimistic.

Future Change

The high of my excitement for iTunes U is the possibilities for change. In a podcast in early June, George Mason Professor Russ Roberts interviewed Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Towards the end of the podcast, beyond the 45 minute mark, Pink and Roberts begin to discuss the idea of great professors who cannot communicate their discipline. Pink notes that the common statement that, “Professor X knows his subject, but does not know how to teach,” is an incorrect statement. Pink argues that if a Professor truly knows his or her content, then they could relate this information to the students. I admit that until I heard this podcast I subscribed to the theory that a professor could be smart, but not a good teacher. Given time to digest Pink’s position, I must agree. If someone truly understands the information they teach, they can relate this information to the audience. In fact, I believe that understand how to connect with your audience holds more weight than being brilliant in your field.

Why mention this? I recall when Duke assessed their iPod initiative one of the concerns by professors was student attendance. One professor noted that he began implementing pop quizzes because students were passing exam by simply listening to his podcasts and quit attend class. The response to this professor, paraphrasing because I cannot find the bookmarked article, was to transform the way you conduct class. If your students can pass the course without attending class, then why should they. My hope is that more college professors will realize how podcasting can liberate them from lecturing as much as shift the learning in courses. Then again with the growth in K12 podcasting, if college professors do not embrace podcasting, students are going to eclipse them and by using the right brain thinking rule the university.

Enjoy your day,


iQuiz: interactive iPods

August 2, 2007

I have ended my continental travels for the summer and am finally settling back in to school mode. My wife and I took a relaxing trip to Cozumel for our anniversary. The day after our return I headed up to Fargo, ND to coach at the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior National Championship. While the upcoming school year was the last thing on my mind while in Mexico, the fifteen hour drive to Fargo provided ample opportunity for ideas. Unfortunately my hotel did not have a stable wireless internet connection, so these I listed these ideas on my Treo to be formalized upon my return. That said …

iQuiz

If you have not heard about this recent addition to iTunes, check out this overview. I first heard about iQuiz at NECC. Yesterday I create my first iQuiz using iQuiz maker and it is as easy as advertised. I based the quiz on my presentation on iPods to the faculty at my school in July. I intend to distribute the quiz to members of the faculty, allowing them an opportunity to practice playing with iQuiz and review some of the information from the presentation.

Review:

The iQuiz Maker application is as user friendly as advertised. Creating new questions is a simple as typing a blog article. I was able to create questions by both typing directly into the application and also by copying and pasting from OpenOffice. My intent by doing this was to see if I would be able to easily transfer questions from quizzes already made. After purchasing iQuiz from iTunes, $0.99, I was able to export my quiz, sync my iPod, and began playing.

Likes:

Besides the ease of use of the iQuiz Maker I enjoy the potential of this application. The iQuiz Maker allows the creator to choose from either True and False or Multiple Guess questions. For T/F questions you can include a clearification note if the correct answer is False. iQuiz also provides the user with a variety of statistics. In addition to the last score, iQuiz also provides the record score and average score. The statistics also display the percentage of correct answers broken down by T/F or Multiple Choice Questions on a latest correct and overall. The simplicity of the application and readout of statistics allow for high potential.

While I am not endorsing standardized exams, I do enjoy trivia games. I feel that a teacher can use iQuiz Maker to create fun reviews specific to the content in his our her course. If a teacher has already typed out review questions it would take little time to copy and paste these questions into iQuiz Maker and export them for student use. A teacher can use the same questions from the class review activity for the iQuiz. This will simply provide students another opportunity to review the content and practice on the style of the questions.

iQuiz would also be a great alternative to comprehension quizzes. I detest spending class time to administer a quiz to ensure the completion of homework. With iQuiz a teacher creates a comprehension quiz and sends that home with the students. The next class period I could check that they completed the quiz during the class warm-up. While I realize that a student could easily complete the quiz while reading the assignment or complete the quiz without reading, the same is true of any take home quiz. Students in my courses understand that memorizing the information does not prove anything. They must be able to own and to use this information.  Additionally if a student is taking a short-cut on a low impact daily quiz, then this students has outside circumstances that should be addressed. The difference between a traditional quiz and and a portable iQuiz is the students has the opportunity the review the information on the quiz and get instant feedback at anytime in the future. This way a student who realizes they cannot recall the information requested by the quiz, they can review these questions anytime in the future in a non-confrontational environment. With automated, instant feedback the student does not have to ask someone else and face embarrasment in reviewing a quiz the teacher assigned the week before.

Requests:

While iQuiz Maker is a great addition to iTunes, there is one main improvement I would like to see made on the next version. I would like to see more use of the Correct Answer Explanation. While the use of this feature for False answers is nice, the opportunition to provide an explanation or strees a specfic point when the answer is True would be nice. Additionally, the use of a Correct Answer Explanation for multiple guess questions would be even better. Aside from the request, I feel that this is a great addition to iPods and a great addition to educational technology.

If you are using this new program or begin using this program, let me know about your results.

Enjoy your day,


Do not Blame technology

June 6, 2007

I previously read an article reporting that schools have began banning iPods in an attempt to outsmart cheaters. The article published on eSchool News Online and redirected to Yahoo News (unable to locate orginal article, but located a copy published by USA Today) stats that schools are aware that students are now using this technology to cheat on exams in a variety of fashions. Among the list of methods include playing audio that provides the student with test answers, and saving the text so students can view the information on screen. Considering that cell phones have provided similar concerns, I am not surprised that some schools have to resort to these actions. I am surprised that this is news worthy. To me the fact that this is news worthy raises a few concerns.

My first concern is with the types of assessments that teachers administer. While I understand that until the College Board, ETS and other test companies find a better format to assess students; or until school districts actually spend time creating assessments that demonstrate actual knowledge teachers will continue to administer multiple choice exams. I admit it, I give one a quarter. I hate them. Personally I think that multiple choice exams dumb down the information and do not allow students to demonstrate actual knowledge. Whenever I think of a multiple choice exams I recall the lesson prescribed by my fourth grade teacher. “When in doubt, pick C.” Unfortunately there is a science to passing such exams and by not providing my students an opportunity to practice these skills I am hurting their chances to perform. What is the answer? Simply: spend more time organizing projects. Project allow students to prove actual knowledge and eliminate students from sneaking by on guessing. Until the society begins to challenge the industry that has become educational testing, and do not fool yourself it is an industry, this will not change. I am not going to spend the time detailing how mind numbing multiple choice exams. For more information on this topic read an article by my wife or Wesley Fryer.

My second concern is with the daily actions of the teachers. I trust that this is not a news flash, but people cheat. Not students, but people. People cheat the laws with they do not regard them as necessary and do not feel a high level of concern for being caught. Ever speed? That is cheating. I speed…a lot. If I am trying to make up time and do not perceive a threat to others or myself based on the environment (weather, knowledge of location, type of neighborhood) and I do not feel high odds that I will be caught (never seen a cop in this neighborhood) then I cheat. In fact cheating is such a negative word. Efficiency is a better word. The philosophic Uncle Scrooge often told his nephews Huey, Dewy, and Louie that one should “work smarter, not harder.” As a teacher and coach I teach this to my student-athletes. These are not short cuts, buy why waste energy doing something when a more efficient way exists. Why spend hours cutting your yard with a reel mower when you can use a riding mower? Why spend hours studying from a test when the teacher uses questions straight from the review and sits behind a computer or pile of papers during the entire exam? These actions are not new. I know people in college who spent the time typing the Algebra review into their calculators. They did this because the equations were exactly the same as in the review and none of the proctors paid attention during the exam. In high school, back when pagers were the new technology, I know students who typed crib sheet with vocabulary and spelling answers, reduced the size of the font, then handed them outside the door before class. The questions came from the workbook and the teacher never left the desk. People looking for an efficient way to accomplish a task is a part of our culture.

If you want to stop students from cheating banning iPods will not work. You have to change the exam and your actions. Create authentic assessment that does not allow for cheating. Make the students do something with the information rather than recite the information. I have found more success in the attainment of knowledge by my students creating a digital story demonstrating the different parts of speech than taking a multiple choice exam. I challenge someone to define how my students in creating a video that teaches and demonstrates the parts of speech know less than those students taking a multiple choice exam. In fact, I believe just the opposite because my project requires high level thinking and creativity. I am willing to bet that they will remember that video down the road, not forever, but next year. Any takers on your multiple choice exam?

Additonally you have to be active. If you are giving a multiple choice exam, be active. I clean during such exams. While I clean I can see what is going on during the exam. After my high school graduation a couple of students told our English teacher about the crib sheets that had been entering her classroom for several years. I heard from students in her class the next year she changed her quizzes and started walking around during them. Guess what declined? Both the scores and the cheating. After the risk increased, students began to actually learn the words rather than complete the task. Proof that if you have to give such an exam, you can prevent cheating by being active. Banning a iPod would not have worked in our class, why do people feel that it will work in these cases.

My closing concern is brief. Why is this newsworthy? My only thought in this is to demonstrate the low standards of some schools. To me this shows their goals are not to educate students, rather to make their jobs easier. My guess is that if the exams remain the same the students will have a new system of efficient test taking by the end of next week. That is unless the need for such assessment ceases to exist. We will have to keep working on that.

Enjoy your day,