How to stand out from the crowd when so many students test well

I recently wrote an article for the India Education Diary in which I argue that a holistic, progressive approach to education is preferable to the testing-focused model most educators are familiar with.

When students experience learning in personally meaningful ways – through service projects, by designing solutions to issues in their local communities, and by demonstrating artistic, literary, or musical creativity – their learning not only goes deeper, it helps differentiate them from the thousands of students whose perfect SAT, ACT, or A-level scores show that they may have mastered test-taking skills but indicate nothing about their competency to function in non-academic settings.

Some of my key points:

  1. Standardized tests are merely hurdles that students must overcome in order to get into universities and earn a degree. In general, standardized tests focus on memorization and regurgitation skills, and it may be argued that these tests don’t translate into real workplace skills.
  2. Tests and exams are not inherently at fault. They serve as useful benchmarks which ensure students have the foundational elements of basic knowledge and skills. However, they do not generally address the creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking that employers seek and which are necessities of entrepreneurship.
  3. Alternative assessments such as portfolios, community action, and engagement with genuine audiences throughout the learning process give a more complete picture of students and allow them to highlight the things that make them uniquely qualified for coveted places in universities.
  4. High-stakes testing imposes a massive mental health toll on students, as evidenced by the wave of suicides that happen when results are released and some students inevitably don’t hit their targets.

You can find the full article here.

Happy learning!

A Curriculum Framework for Purpose-Driven Learning

Why students learn appears in many schools’ visions and mission statements that use words such as ‘inspire,’ ‘empower,’ ‘innovate,’ and ‘make a difference.’ But how many students experience those concepts in their day-to-day experiences at school? Young people naturally want to know, “why are we learning this?” and, “why is this relevant to my life?”

In short, students seek purpose in their learning.

As someone dedicated to using education to leverage meaningful change in the world, I think the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals provide a fantastic opportunity for young people to find that purpose in their learning. They can investigate concepts such as diversity, equality, justice, and sustainability from different perspectives, and students can see how various fields of knowledge both contribute to and mitigate some of the most pressing issues in the world today.

Follow this link for a closer look at this idea in a recent post I wrote for New Nordic School in Finland, where I’m the Director of Education. It should only take a few minutes to read, and it is my hope that you’ll find my ideas about the direction of contemporary education refreshing.

 

Learning 21st-century competencies to build a sustainable future

For some educators, the term ‘21st-century learning’ indicates a heavy reliance on teachers’ use of technology to deliver lessons or students’ demonstration of learning via podcasts, videos, animations, and other products that didn’t exist when we old-timers were in school. Others claim that ‘21st-century learning’ refers to skills that apply not only to school, but to life in general. Collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving are generally at or near the top of this skills list.

I would argue that modern education requires a focus on competencies rather than skills, and that technology should simply facilitate the learning process instead of being its focus.

Check out the post I wrote for New Nordic School in Finland, in which I discuss the importance of competency-based learning in a real world framework.

 

Welcome!

Source: WikiJournal of Science

I’ve created this site for my students as well as teachers and learners of science around the world. My intention is to share engaging content-specific resources as well as general guidance for science learning and scientific communication. The tabs across the top of the page take you to pages dedicated to IB Biology, IB Environmental Systems and Societies, and MYP Integrated Sciences. Much of the content on those pages also applies to science classes which are not a part of the International Baccalaureate Organization structure, though the assessment criteria are specific to the IBO’s Diploma Program and the Middle Years Program.

Below, you’ll find a few resources which I think are some of the most valuable for my students, and which I want them to come back to regularly. This is where you’ll find guidance on writing lab reports, creating data tables and graphs for data analysis, and developing presentations to effectively communicate about science. You’ll also find a list of digital resources for science, which I update regularly as I unearth new tools that I think will benefit students’ learning, as well as previous blog entries (from the days when I had more time to write).

How to Write MYP Science Reports

How to Create Scientific Tables and Graphs

How to Effectively Communicate Scientific Knowledge

Digital Resources for Science

Happy learning!

Mr K

How to write MYP science lab reports

Happy Friday!

This week I’ve been working with a 9th grade student to refine a lab report he’s writing on the energy content of different alcohol fuels, and as part of my work with him, I kept returning to some resources I developed over the past few years.

In addition to the above presentation, I provide students with the following guide to developing data tables and graphs using Microsoft Excel (2011) for Mac. Since I originally created this document, I have moved almost entirely to the Google suite of applications, so some of the controls may be a bit out of date, but the end products are still valid for use in MYP science classes.

I hope you find these resources helpful.

Happy learning!

Gorillas in the Ugandan Mist

This past weekend, my wife and I were fortunate to travel to Rwanda and Uganda to spend some time with one of the world’s most endangered animals, the eastern mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, in Uganda’s tiny Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

It was awesome.

 

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Mountain gorillas are are a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla and are listed as critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. Our guides told us there are only 680 individuals left in the wild. They’re found only in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where they live in dense primary, i.e. uncut, rainforest and bamboo forests between 600 and 2,900 meters above sea level.  The IUCN claims that the major threats to mountain gorillas’ survival are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, civil unrest (especially in the DRC), and climate change.

Unfortunately for the gorillas, growing human populations in the surrounding areas have pushed farms farther and farther up into the mountains, dividing the forest habitat the gorillas depend on into two separate ‘islands’ of montane forest. This human encroachment prevents the remaining gorilla populations from interacting with one another, minimizing gene flow and increasing inbreeding.

Such genetic isolation can contribute to the process of speciation if both populations are large enough and have enough resources to thrive for many generations. However, large mammals with relatively long gestational periods need fairly large populations to ensure sufficient genetic diversity. Mountain gorilla pregnancies last about 8.5 months, and they only have babies about once every 4 years, which is a big part of the reason why the tiny populations found in Rwanda, DRC, and Uganda are critically endangered.

And now for a few words on Rwanda.

During our brief time in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where about 259,000 people are buried in the middle of town. I was working on my undergraduate degree when the Rwandan genocide happened in 1994, and I have clear memories of watching events unfold on television. But that doesn’t begin to do justice to the horrors of a million people losing their lives in the span of 100 days. During the genocide, roughly 10,000 acts of murder were committed Every. Single. Day. Most of those acts were by hand, with machetes, hammers, clubs, and axes, directed against neighbors, coworkers, teammates, classmates, and family members. It’s astounding. Twenty three years later, Rwanda is basically an entire country suffering from PTSD.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial doesn’t only focus on the events that shaped this small East African country – it also explores the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, German atrocities committed in Namibia at the start of the 20th century, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and of course the Jewish Holocaust of World War 2. Overall the museum and the memorial are really well done, discussing the attitudes and actions that lead to genocide, as well as detailing the way Rwanda has seemingly successfully recovered from it. If you have the chance, I highly recommend a visit.

A “21st Century Report Card”?

I just finished reading the article, A Plan For Raising Brilliant Kids, According to Science, from the NPR Ed website. It’s a summary of an interview with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist with Temple University and the Bookings Institution, and Professor Roberta Golinkoff from the University of Delaware. The pair have written a book titled Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children.

In the book, Pasek and Holinkoff propose a new model for educational assessment, which they call “the six Cs”: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. I don’t think they’re the first to propose these ideas as fundamental to modern education, but I do like the way they link all of them together. Here are the six Cs in the authors’ own words:

Hirsh-Pasek: The first, basic, most core is collaboration. Collaboration is everything from getting along with others to controlling your impulses so you can not kick someone else off the swing. It’s building a community and experiencing diversity and culture. Everything we do, in the classroom or at home, has to be built on that foundation.

Communication comes next, because you can’t communicate if you have no one to communicate with. This includes speaking, writing, reading and that all-but-lost art of listening.

Content is built on communication. You can’t learn anything if you haven’t learned how to understand language, or to read.

Critical thinking relies on content, because you can’t navigate masses of information if you have nothing to navigate to.

Creative innovation requires knowing something. You can’t just be a monkey throwing paint on a canvas. It’s the 10,000-hour rule: You need to know something well enough to make something new.

And finally, confidence: You have to have the confidence to take safe risks.

Just to be clear: I’m not endorsing the book (I haven’t even read it myself). I was simply struck by how different these ideas are from the way most schools, and many of us teachers, measure students’ achievements and progress. In my experience, all Cs but the content have been relegated to secondary status on report cards, lumped together in a general “effort” or “approaches to learning” category.

Happy learning!

Mr K