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,

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Geo Caching

March 6, 2007

After attending a great session on Geo Caching by Shauna Maggs of Groundspeak my wife and I went on to find our first cache together. I see a lot of potential for this in education: geography, science, history, english. In fact, I cannot see a subject which could not incorporate Geo Caching into a lesson. Shauna also introduced a new idea called WheriGo. WheriGo is an provides an opportunity for interactive field trips. It uses GPS and reminds me of the Web 1.0 game that most of use grew-up playing, Oregon Trail. Shauna provided us with some travel bugs and I plan on taking a couple with me to Italy and seeing if they can find their goals.

Enjoy your day,


Utopia High and the power of blogging

February 28, 2007

Recently our Freshman Pre-AP class finished reading selections from Plato’s Republic and applied our new knowledge. To apply our knowledge we outlined the guidelines for a new high school, Utopia High. Following our discussion of the selected book, the student outlined their ideas in groups, supported their ideas in a class discussion and finally wrote about the new school. The areas cover include the following:

Categories of people at your high school (e.g. Students, teachers, etc.)
School schedule
Curriculum
Extracurricular activities
Facilities (e.g. Libraries, labs, etc.)
Admission requirements
Causes for expulsion

Coincidentally, Edutopia published and article outlining futurist Alvin Toffler’s idea on the future of schools. I noticed this article in reading my wife’s blog, Musings From the Academy. After conducting a Technorati search on Toffler I found another blog posting on the article at CreativeClass.org. I pointed out the other blog posting to my class and they proceeded to extend the conversation outside of the walls of our class by leaving comments on the Musings blog. Angla noted to the CreativeClass audience of the discussion and expanded our audience again. When I explain to the class how many people were now involved in the discussion they were amazed. Just another example of the power of blogging. And yes, I realized following my posting of my comments of the typo.

Enjoy your day,