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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

My Prediction: Within five to ten years in some countries, open Internet access for information acquisition will be available on standardized tests. This access will significantly reduce the quantity of data designated for rote memorization.

Tools and Skills

Before 1994, a student would be expelled from the SAT exams for bringing any type of calculator. Then, starting in 1994, calculators were not only permitted, but were essentially required. The driving factors came from the level of mathematics taught and tested and the availability of graphing calculator technology. This change gave students the appropriate tool for accuracy and efficiency -- it was also the one used by most professionals who used mathematics beyond basic arithmetic. Consider, also, that calculator access for these standardized tests did not reduce the instruction in -- or development of -- real arithmetic skills. Mental access of such facts and procedures as the multiplication tables and manipulation of fractions, without a calculator, remains a valued goal for all students.

We are now in the same nexus of advancement of information and technology to make the equivalent jump for other subjects. Access to the Internet for information acquisition during tests (and learning) is the appropriate response now, just as the calculator access was in mathematics almost two decades ago.

Just the Facts

As technology and globalization exponentially increase the available facts and knowledge base of all subjects and professions, the response in education has been to incorporate more and more information into the requirements for each school year. The current system of "if it's information, teach it and test it" can no longer support the volume of information. Textbooks cannot get much bigger, and the impact of the increasing demands on students to memorize data is increasingly counterproductive.

In the "real world," professionals in all specialties and businesses use the superiority of the web over the human brain to accurately hold and retrieve facts and to keep up. "Facts" change too quickly even for e-books to be current and accurate by the time they are released. Physicians do not rely on memory, or textbooks, or even the latest journals for the most up-to-date information about diagnostic testing, best treatments, and other facts that change daily.

For example, before prescribing medication, physicians often search the Medscape or Epocrates websites for the most current facts that might have significant impact on a patient's reactions to the medication. New information can be critical, even for medications that have been tested; that medication could have just been found to cause problems when taken by patients also taking a different medication for another medical condition. Thanks to the physician having access to that new information before prescribing medications, the risk of potential complications is vastly reduced.

Tests and Stress

Boredom, frustration, negativity, apathy, self-doubt and the behavioral manifestations of these brain stressors have increased in the past decade. As facts increase, as over-packed curriculum expands, and as demands for rote memorization for high stakes testing intensify, the brains of our students have reacted to the increased stress. Stress, including that provoked by sustained or frequent boredom or frustration, detours brain processing away from the higher, rational, prefrontal cortex. In the stress state, the lower, reactive brain is in control. Retrievable memory is not formed, and behavioral responses are limited to involuntary fight/flight/freeze -- seen in the classroom as acting out, zoning out or dropping out.

Student cheating has increased, with decreased remorse when cheaters are caught. They rationalize that they are valued for their test scores, so they do what they can to get higher scores. This ethical compromise has been posed a possible correlate to the increased white-collar crimes committed by young adults who attended school during the past decade of high-stakes testing emphasis.

Teachers have not been spared the stress and compromises that come with overemphasis on memorization of facts for tests. Repeatedly, teachers and administrators are found changing test answers or holding back eligible students from tests to prevent lower test grade averages. With some new systems of evaluating teacher performance (in part) based on percent improvement in their students' test scores over several months, teachers admit to withholding some instruction in the weeks before the baseline test to improve the percent change between the first and second test.

The problem is not primarily teachers or students who, in desperation, resort to cheating, but rather the conditions that drive them to such extremes. These conditions promote even more devastating responses in some cultures where families emphasize children's value relative to test performance. Medical and psychological stress-related conditions, including depression and suicide, have raised awareness of the increasingly large quantity of data that must be memorized for tests. New laws in South Korea ban the pervasive private, after-hours tutoring academies due to the health concerns about sleep-deprived children.

Tomorrow's Workforce

Even if these medical, social, psychological and ethical problems do not promote a change in testing, the economic demands as to what employee skill sets employers want will inevitably topple the factory model of education.

This model of memorizing facts and procedures was developed to prepare for assembly line work, and it cannot keep up with the information age requirements for an educated workforce. With a growing information base, employers in global industries that develop new products or systems already report they are more interested in a potential employees' abilities to respond quickly and successfully to frequent change, and to communicate, lead and collaborate, rather than showing the traditional interest in applicants' life work experience. Desirable employees are those capable of making use of new information and technology to solve new problems and innovate ahead of the competition.

The lives our students will live and the jobs for which they'll compete will not be about answering questions correctly, but about how they use knowledge and respond to changes. Yet currently the time sacrificed to fact memorization and test prep is resulting in more high school dropouts and students graduating from the secondary system without the preparation to succeed in college and employment, or to lead fulfilling lives.

Freedom

Freedom from excessive rote fact memorization focus means teachers can be creative individually and in professional learning communities. There will be reduction of the "management" problems that currently result from stressed-brain reactive behavior. Educators will be able to develop and use more engaging, relevant and equitable learning experiences to enhance cross-curricular skills and competences. More equitable access to foundational facts, which are not equally acquired by some students with language or learning differences, will mean they are not held back from applying other strengths to build conceptual knowledge and understanding. As students are guided with learning opportunities that develop their executive functions, they will develop understanding beyond just knowing. Their extended neural networks will empower them to transfer knowledge to new applications as we help them build the brains to achieve their greatest creative potentials.

Your Predictions?

This is only the beginning of this conversation. What do you consider important implications of and perhaps preparation for Internet access for learning and testing?

Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jessica's picture
Jessica
5th Grade Teacher from VA

I guess the reality of the future, and even now, is that we are a society who tries to do everything. I am a 5th grade teacher of a special education inclusion class. Please do not misunderstand my next comment. I believe every child can learn and has the potential for cognitive development. However, I will tell you that I have a number of students who when they have the appropriate tools are able to achieve success. Some students have personal dictionaries they have created, some are able to use language dictionaries on every assessment and many other accommodations. Some may say that it is reasonable due to their disabilities; however, I would agree that we should teach all students to be resourceful. Dr. Willis commented, "Consider, also, that calculator access for these standardized tests did not reduce the instruction in -- or development of -- real arithmetic skills." I would agree that with the amount of information required for students to learn, it is imperative to teach students how to use the tools of the times. In response to a student's question, I have said many times, "I'm not sure, but I can find out and get back to you!" The students love that because it shows them that no one knows everything and that we have the ability to "find out" about the things we are curious about and in the future, things they need to know. I think a combination of rote memory and information retrieval for high steaks testing would be the most beneficial for all!

Gayle's picture

Allowing the use of technology to seek information causes a shift in thinking for teachers who were traditionally the knowledge-holders. This past year I began to allow students to use technology for this purpose and it was liberating for me to stop fighting the battle against the phones! Although they can be very beneficial when used appropriately, they are also one of the biggest time wasters when students are side-tracked by games and/or social media at the wrong times. I had not previously thought about the inevitable use of technology for standardized tests. It will be interesting to see how tests change in the future to allow for technology. Thank you for your thought-provoking post.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Jessica, did you truly think very carefully about the title of your post before typing it out?

How can "reality" of the future exist if the future isn't even here yet? Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't we still living in the present?

Or perhaps you have a crystal ball that you've peered into to make this bold assertion with any certainty?

It's more likely, based on the responses from the other teachers of your generation, that you've swilled from the same vat of sour Kool-Aid as they have and thus, are simply parroting their line of pedogogic folderol.

As a life skills teacher, I know that if you want to teach disabled students to be resourceful, you must teach them vocational and daily living skills as a priority. All they need is a simple PECS book that costs next to nothing to create. The great thing is that you haven't contributed one dime to the greedy creeps and hucksters that work in Silicon Valley.

Neal White's picture
Neal White
Grandfather of 2 preschool students, 1 first grade student in Atlanta

"I'm not sure, but I can find out and get back to you!" I should think that if possible at the time to set down with the student and say let's see if we can find the answer together thereby teaching both the skill of finding the correct answer as well as the answer itself. I realize that time may not permit in all cases, but it would seem to me to be the appropriate thing to do.

Mark Schwarz's picture
Mark Schwarz
Middle School Vice Principal / K-8 Curriculum Coordinator

As someone who is a HUGE proponent of the application of brain science to pedagogy, I am highly disappointed by this article. The argument proposed is alive and hotly contested in schools, but this is a simplistic and one sided treatment.

Setting aside the weak journalistic quality (where is there an acknowledgement of opposing views?), the author fails to observe that the most vital prerequisite to successful research is a preexisting knowledge base of the content at hand.

Mark Schwarz's picture
Mark Schwarz
Middle School Vice Principal / K-8 Curriculum Coordinator

I do, however, agree with her ultimate point. The web should be available to students during assessments. Her supporting arguments do not do the point justice.

Stephanie C. Moder's picture
Stephanie C. Moder
PCET, Professionally Certified Educational Therapist, Educational coach

Dr. Judy Willis, in her June 13, 2012 blog entitled "Bad for the Brain: Goodbye to Unsustainable Education Models", adroitly predicted one of the benefits technology will bring to education. She posits that future educators will need to de-emphasize memorization to free the brain to learn new skills for tomorrow's workforce. The challenge to our future economy is whether the American educational system will be agile enough to embrace this new way of divergent thinking about what we teach and how we assess.
The need for different educational and thinking skills is aptly delineated in Dr. Tony Wagner's list of "Seven Survival Skills", from his book, The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need - And What We Can Do About It (Basic Books, 2008):
1. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
3 Agility and adaptability
4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
5. Effective oral and written communication
6. Accessing and analyzing information
7. Curiosity and imagination
The current educational model of memorization Dr. Willis describes as "if it's information, teach it and test it" only partially addresses the needs of our information age and beyond. Dr. Wagner recalls one CEO who lamented that bright, recent, college graduates could not adequately produce persuasive written communication that he needed for his company (see #5). (http://asiasociety.org/education/resources-schools/professional-learning...) How can future employees respond quickly if their pre-frontal cortex is under-developed? How can American students compete for employment if other nations are ahead of the educational curve?
Dr. Willis shared that over-emphasis on rote memorization of too great a volume of information over-stresses the brain and detours our thinking away from the "rational, pre-frontal cortex". This part of the brain is where the higher-order thinking occurs as described in "Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning", such as the Apply, Create, and Evaluate levels and not just Recall and Comprehend (Krathwohl, 2001).
My prediction: Savvy consumers of education will respond to the demands for skills and creative thinking in tomorrow's workforce by seeking alternative sources, i.e., even schools outside of the traditional US educational system, and there will be a movement away from traditional schooling as we see it today.
Krathwohl, D. (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching & Assessing. THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 41, Number 4, Autumn 2002 College of Education, The Ohio State University. Retrieved from http://www.unco.edu/cetl/sir/stating_outcome/documents/Krathwohl.pdf
Singmaster, H. Seven Skills Students Need for the Future (Website post). Retrieved from http://asiasociety.org/education/resources-schools/professional-learning...

Dena Cole's picture

I agree we are on the verge of a huge shirt in the structure of learning. While memorizing the facts is required to understand the concepts, its seen as a waste of time in the eyes of many students. With information literally at their finger tips it is the argument for memorization of details is mute. This is why I am a strong supporter of the common core standards and implementation. We need to teach the students how to process information. How to sort through credible sources. How to read and understand the information that they find. How to synthesize information from various sources and utilize their resources for to their maximum potential.

Brandi Geer's picture
Brandi Geer
Educational Therapist/ Jr. High English Teacher

As we struggle to understand the way changes in technology affect the learning process, teachers have to play catch up to understanding how to develop stimulating curriculum for the way our students learn. From the beginning of my teaching career, I noticed it is not the what that a child learns it is the how that impacts them long term. Each child has specific interests and learns in different ways. It is tapping into that in the most effective way possible that makes teaching these digital age students challenging. I agree that teaching strategies from the past need to be revamped in order to best serve these children. There is a need for change in the way teachers are taught to educate children with a priority on brain based education and development of learning strategies in the classroom.
The other day I was working with an 8th grader. When I asked him why we go to school he answered, "to make my mom happy." When I asked him why he thought homework and tests were given in the classroom, he answered, "because that is their job, and they want me to suffer." I chuckled at his ideas of what education is. I asked him if he learned outside of school. He said no. So I said you just walk around without thinking when you are not in school? He didn't understand that we learn whenever we think of something new or try something we haven't before. When I told him that teachers didn't have to give tests other than standardized test set by the school to see if he is learning what he is supposed to he was blown away. Testing is a measure of a good teacher. It helps the teacher know if the information that they are trying to deliver is reaching the child. A test is not a grade for a child, it is a grade for the teacher. The sooner the teachers accept that as part of their responsibility and personal reflection, the better teachers they will become. There is no such thing as a child who doesn't learn, only teachers who fail to inspire a child to learn, or change the way they teach to suit the child's way of learning. The child is not getting paid to sit in class. It is the teacher's job to ensure that learning happens to the best ability of the partnership between teacher and student.
In the future I hope that testing will be more about planning curriculum than it is about ratings or ranking a student. We are all a sum of our experiences. It is finding the right combination of those experiences to deliver that content of what is supposed to be learned in a classroom. If a computer could do the job of a teacher to inspire students, then we wouldn't need teachers anymore. Teachers need to be the ones to understand the student and their needs. With that, true education happens.

Elizabeth's picture
Elizabeth
High School English Teacher, CT

I completely agree!! I find that so many of my freshman and sophomore students can easily identify good examples or information when I ask for it, but they seem to have a much harder time explaining their ideas, analyzing them, and evaluating the information. When students are able to use technology to their advantage, they have more opportunities to evaluate information right away. We can use these experiences to talk to our students about how they make these decision. Meta-cognition is incredibly important for growing adolescents.
Technology is only becoming more and more developed and important for daily life. I firmly believe that we should use it to our advantage as much as possible to help our students become more well informed and responsible members of society.

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