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,

The importance of diction: Why RSS is important and Why I hate the media

April 9, 2007

So in trying to take advantage of the Easter weekend and a couple of days away from the classroom I am trying to catch up on some current event reading. A side note, completely off topic, we have a couple of extra days because of not using our bad weather days and I saw snow flurries while I was cleaning up my yard. I live in Texas and it is April here. Anyway, in reading my current events I started with those I have most recently neglected. One of the reasons why I like using my Netvibes account and RSS subscriptions when reading the news is so I can compare what different media outlets deem is important and how they express this news. In read the lists of education articles one from CNN stood out first. The head line read “Study: No benefit going high-tech for math and reading”. As someone interested in promoting the benefits of technology in education I immediately stopped my browsing to read the article. To the credit of the unknown AP writer, the source of the study and unbiased reporting on the study appeared in the article. Unfortunately the headline completely misrepresented the study. One lesson my statistics professor at KU, Prof Mark Joslyn, ingrained in my undergraduate studies was to look beyond the simple numbers. Always keeping that lesson in mind I looked up the study referenced in the article.

In reading the executive summary the first item that struck me was the lack of the use of the word “benefit.” Now remember the AP writer’s headline says “no benefit” exists. However, the executive report does not use that word once. I know what you are saying, “it must be in the full report, but I do not have time to read the full report.” Neither do I, but Adobe has a great search tool and by using this tool I was able to locate the one time that the full report uses the word benefit. This use is only to note the “benefit” of an end of year exam in assessing subject matter. So now I began to wonder if the AP writer even read this report.

Giving the AP writer the benefit of the doubt, I suspended my knowledge of this search and assumed that the AP writer lacks proper vocabulary skills that comes with reading and also does not know another word for benefit. In continuing to feed my curiosity I read the executive summary. In reading I kept noticing that the report notes that no statistical change resulted after one year on using educational software. Then I realized the CNN article cites that the “effectiveness of education technology” was the focus of the study. So I re-read the report by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance and realized that the report does not evaluate educational technology, rather educational software. Again, I gave the AP reporter some slack on vocabulary usage. After all viewers of the NBC series Friends will recall when Joey went crazy with the thesaurus button and boasted about Chandler and Monica’s full-sized aortic pumps.

Unfortunately for the AP writer the bubble holding my leniency burst when I got to the page outlining the Summary of the Study. Item three notes a clear benefit of such software. In bold print it says, “When Products Were Being Used, Students Were More Likely to Engage in Individual Practice and Teachers Were More Likely to Facilitate Student Learning Rather Than Lecture.” Seriously? Could this be a benefit the AP writer clearly stated does not exist. You mean a study by an organization who’s mission is to evaluate educational statistics and “encourage evidence-based approach to education”, as noted on the NCEE’s brochure, says that educational software does not decrease test scores, but rather increases individual learning and some schmuck from the AP wire who does not even get to cite his or her name does not see this as a benefit.

It is too bad that this writer grew-up up prior to the availability of such software, because maybe then he or she would have developed a better vocabulary and maybe would have learned how to work individually rather than rely on what someone tells him or her to be fact.

On a side note, the Washington Post also reported on this study and did a better job of using vocabulary. However, this article briefly mentions the note of individualized learning and it fails to mention the name of the study or the organization responsibly for it. I do not count citing the DOE since technically the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance which is a subset of the Institute of Education Sciences which is a subset of the DOE. The focus of this article appears to be less on the benefits or the outcome of the study and more on the possible corruption and waste of money by school districts. I have an idea, stop by my classroom and I can demonstrate the benefits of technology and I will not waste the money spent on this study.

Feel free to leave your comment on this posting. I wish I could say you could do the same to the AP writer, but no such ability exists on CNN’s webpage.

On-line Education

October 3, 2006

This week Bishop Dunne Catholic is piloting our On-line Education Program. This idea is the combination of the thoughts of several people with a variety of intentions. This program will start with Seniors looking to complete graduation requirements. Over the course of the year it will expand to other students within our community. Possibly someday this program will expand beyond the reach of the North Texas highway system to include students in various parts of the country.

One of the initial ideas in this program is with those students looking to complete our graduation requirements. The process in creating this program was simple. If a student has difficulty meeting the requirements of a course in a traditional classroom setting, then how can we provide an environment in which the student can be successful? As a school looking to find new ways to apply our technology resources the answer was staring us in the face, the internet. It was the desire of the administration to utilize the experience of our faculty to create an on-line environment that will help all students find success in school. We believe that through a well structured course facilitated using an on-line environment we can achieve this result.

An on-line environment removes many of the factors that prove difficult for some students. Lets face it, for some students it takes a while to adjust to a high school program. Often a summer school setting in no relief for these difficulties. Therefore, the students are not provided an opportunity to make up for previous growing pains. By provide the students an opportunity to take a class on-line the student can demonstrate mastery of a discipline on their own time, while still completing the requirements of the current year. It provides them a unique opportunity to apply the skills they have learned over the previous year–time management, independent study and researching skills. All while learning new skills such as expanding the expanding educational uses for the internet.

While the initial program is for those students looking to meet the requirements for graduation, it is our belief that this program will expand to students looking to take courses that will not fit a traditional schedule. After all, why should a student be prevented from taking psychology simply because the only offering of this course is at the same time as statistics. By using services such as Edline, educational tools such as iPods and Web 2.0 application every student with the time will be able to take these courses.

Then consider summer school. This is a curious phrase. In college I took summer school courses in order to graduate with two Bachelor’s degrees on-time, translated to within five years. Being involved in various activities outside of the classroom limited my ability to schedule all of the course the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk Jayhawk) required for graduation. Why should this be different for high school students? Students looking to meet graduation requirements should be provided the opportunity to do just that, graduate.

Often summer school seems more like a means to discipline students who falter during the school year. Summer school should not be a task regulated by time served. Rather it should be a program constructed to allow a student to demonstrate they can master the content and skills required by a course. Our goal is that our on-line education program will be such a means.

For those who doubt the validity of on-line education I recommend reviewing a couple of issues. First, review this article on the use of on-line learning as a means to help at risk students. Second, consider an initiative being considered by the state of Michigan to add on-line learning as a graduation requirement.

As we begin this journey expect periodic updates regarding the growth and adjustments to this program. Your thoughts on this issue would be great as well.

Enjoy your day,