A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Class size and cliched movie metaphors....

Just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath. Says a lot about education. One of his points is that class size isn't important in determining success. His argument is that there is a benefit when the classes are too large but after a point, not only is the benefit lost, but too small is just as problematic for the class as too large. Here is a sample of his graph.

This idea seems counterintuitive and is certainly not how schools are marketed--the small the size, the better the instruction--more personalized. That is the norm, right?

Here is the deal, though. I think Gladwell (and score of other researchers) are right. 

My best year-long experience in a class has been in a class of about 15. My worst was in a class of six. My larger classes tend to be a more mixed bag: male:female, strong:middling:weak students, learning styles and differences. We do a lot of collaboration and discussion in my class and we need a diverse group for the best work to be done. 

The small class I mentioned was all male, all high achieving and not particularly racially diverse. I was so excited for the small class but left many days feeling exhausted by it. The discussions were mediocre and the group work felt 'lowest common denominator.' They all earned good grades but I didn't feel as if I challenged them to be better students or citizens. This experience was early in my career and I know I would do things differently now.  But...

Part of the problem was size. Sometimes students need a place to just be. They want to be seen and heard but not front and center all the time. This is true of both introverted and extroverted students. Sometimes you just want to be let be; to let someone else do the heavy lifting for a minute. Sometimes you need time to process what you are hearing and thinking. Sometimes you need white space to think through a challenging statement; a safe place to wrestle with a new idea. I honestly believe adding even a few more students would have been helpful. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are teachers getting in the way of learning?

As I finished this post, I realized that I have talked about the Independent Project before... here is that previous post. The video is new though.

I have a feeling I'm going to upset someone with this post. And I am making peace with that.

This video is put together by a student at an a school affiliated with The Independent Project. The program started in Massachusetts as an alternative school. This Huffington Post article does a good job of explaining it (watch the video with it as well). The gist is that students decide on a Monday what they want to learn and then spend the week wrestling with it. On Fridays, students present their findings.

I know, it sounds like kids would just dink around all week but, the administrators of the program found that students held themselves and each other accountable, and the end of week outputs exceeded the state standards. There are requirements for the weekly exploration and there are teachers who help facilitate the learning, but students research what students are curious about.

Yes, the format raises some obvious questions and red flags, but before babies go out with bath water...

Think about facilitating students as they teach themselves.

Think about engaging with students who are curious and fearless and interested in more than regurgitating data on a test.

Think about seeing students as more than data points to be manipulated.