Do we really want a data driven education system and are we ready to pay the price?

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finland-vs.-united-states-2009-pisa-results-from-ncee.orgWe are only a few months away from 2015 and even though my three-year-old son is yet to start the ‘serious’ part of his education, I cannot help but wonder what kind of a mental experience he will have during the next 15-20 years. According to the newspapers we are almost drowning in the world of abundant data, big data, so to say, but leaving aside the latest trends and buzzwords, are we really making the best use of our capabilities to enhance, deepen and widen the learning experience of our children?

For example, take this very interesting article from The Washington Post: “Homework: An unnecessary evil? … Surprising findings from new research“. The main point of the article, that there is no correlation between homework and grades, as well as test scores, flies very much agaist the traditional educational patterns, isn’t it? But then I would expect very careful, data driven analyses from people who would argue against the findings discussed in the article. Shall I get such a treatment? I doubt so, because as usual, relying on ‘common sense’ is almost always easier than the painstaking scientific approach and as we all come to expect, experimenting on humans, especially toying with the education practices of children is a very sensitive area, it is always the children that bear the real costs, good or bad. Having said that, I cannot keep myself from thinking that if so much computing power cannot help us with a scientific and data driven approach to enhancing education, then what will? More

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What will be the future of education in Belgium?

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grafiekenHaving a 3-year-old son makes me think about the future of education in Belgium. I try to keep an informed perspective, though it is difficult to be an optimist after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century“. In this short blog entry, I wanted to take note of some recent facts, so that I might refer to them, maybe 15-20 years from now, when my son goes to university.

Fact 1: In 2014, there is an electrified debate regarding the raise in tuition fees for universities. For more information you can read “UGent valt verhoging inschrijvingsgeld aan” and “Wentel besparingen niet af op studenten“. Even though there is still visible and vocal opposition against putting students in a position where they will graduate with a lot of debt, the genie is already out of the bottle, and people who control the mainstream media continue to support discussions over this issue. More

Do students who do their maths exercises on a tablet make more mistakes?

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According to a recent piece of news, the answer is a strong “yes”:

Students who do their maths exercises on a tablet make more mistakes, according to Stef Van Gorp, Master’s student at Thomas More University College in Mechelen, who examined the results of children in the third year of 16 primary schools. Van Gorp found that 72% of students make more mistakes on a tablet than on paper. On average, children made six mistakes on a tablet and just one on paper. Van Gorp’s conclusion was that children often consider tablets as toys and take the digital exercises less seriously. However, he said that mistakes can also be caused by the children not yet mastering the operation of a tablet.

tablet

You can read what Belgian newspapers said in Dutch here and here.

I have mixed feelings about this: Making mistakes is not a big deal, as long as children realize them in the process and learn from them. On the other hand, even though I’m all for bringing all of the advantages to education, I can’t stop myself from missing the robust nature of pencil, paper and huge black or white boards.

Impressions after completing the ‘How to Learn Math’ class

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The title of my blog entry for June 2, 2013 was “Can parents be better math teachers for their kids?“, referring to the online ‘How to Learn Math‘ class given by Prof.  Jo Boaler.  I had a few motivations for enrolling in this class, but the primary one was to get in touch with the latest methods and research in teaching mathematics. Even though I’m not a mathematics teacher by profession, I thought I could use the information and know-how I could gain for my son in the near future. I also had older kids in my extended family whom I tried to help in areas such as mathematics and programming.

This word cloud was generated on August 12th and is based on 5087 responses to the question "why do students often feel so bad about mistakes"?

This word cloud was generated on August 12th and is based on 5087 responses to the question “why do students often feel so bad about mistakes”?

Now that the class is over and I have completed it successfully, I can say that I’m satisfied with it more or less. One of the facts that Prof. Boaler admitted is that this was her first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) experience, and I think next time she gives a similar class it will be better. I think some of the videos could be shorter, less repetitive, whereas some of the exercises could be a little more challenging, and structured, with more opportunities for valuable feedback. These points aside, it was very valuable to see the challenges faced by actual teachers, and listening to the experiences of students from diverse backgrounds were also helpful in developing a perspective. On top of that, some of my academic heroes, such as Sebastian Thrun, were there, providing me with very valuable insights with their interviews.

Once again I have seen that having a background in mathematics, engineering and cognitive science is not enough by itself to realize the better methods of teaching, and that is reason enough for me to be thankful to Jo Boaler for her continued efforts. I hope one day I will be good guide to my son and other kids in their journey to the wonderful world of sophisticated abstractions and surprising ideas with some unexpected connections 🙂

 

 

Can parents be better math teachers for their kids?

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Like many people, I have tried (and still try) to help young people with mathematics, be it an occasional geometry problem, or at a higher level, such as calculus. Now that I have a child who is yet to have any trouble with math, I think I should spend more time in pedagogical aspects of teaching math. It is one thing to have had a formal university education in mathematics and engineering, and completely another thing to be good at teaching mathematics; first one does not necessarily lead to the second.

This is why I have decided to be a student again and take the summer course given by Dr. Jo Boaler: “EDUC115N: How to Learn Math

According to the official web site: More

Are we overloading our kids with homework and killing their creativity?

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hwAccording to recent news (see Flanders Today and Klasse Leraren), in some countries, such as Belgium, children are overloaded with homework:

Secondary schools are overloading students with homework, according to Lyle Muns, chairman of the Flemish secondary school students organisation. Muns feels excessive homework assignments are obliging many students to stay home too much, with too little time to develop essential social skills. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Flemish 15-year-olds spend an average just over six hours a week on homework; their Finnish counterparts, for instance, spend 3.7 hours a week on assignments but achieve better results.

Personally, I have nothing against working and studying hard, as long as it involves intrinsic motivation strongly coupled with spiritual satisfaction, but I have also started to get the impression that kids these days, at least a representative sample I generally come across, are really busy; busier than adults, if I may say so!

Finland, in this case, stands as the ultimate example of the worn out cliché “work smarter, not harder”. Nevertheless, I think we need to think more about the correlation (and the causality relationship) between the amount of homework given to the kids and their long-term success, because, well, in the long-term that’s what counts, and not some temporary test scores that helps the feelings of teachers and parents.

The first step of our son’s pre-school registration and linguistic issues of children in Belgium

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Meld je aan - school pre-registration website

Meld je aan – school pre-registration website

1 March 2013 was an exciting day for us because we completed the first step of our 1.5 year old son Arman’s pre-school registration. We were very much satisfied by the pre-registration website that the Flemish Ministry for Education prepared for parents: https://meldjeaan.antwerpen.be. They have even prepared a short video demonstrating the process, but I think having subtitles in a few different languages would be a very useful addition to this nice video.

The website requested that we select 5 different schools and now it is time to wait for about 1.5 months to see whether our first choice has enough places so that we can go and register Arman there. Among some schools that are at a convenient distance to us, we have also selected a Montessori school, and I’m curious about the experience, should Arman start attending there.

The surprising factor about the pre-registration web site was the questions they asked about the linguistic skills of our son, e.g. what language he used when speaking to his mother, what language with the father, what language with brothers and sisters, and what language when communicating with friends (apparently they forgot the valuable option of babbling ;-)) It would be very nice if the Flemish Ministry for Education publish this data anonymously and keep the spirit of free, open, and high quality data that is one of the pillars of the information age in which we are living.

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