Laptops And Phones In The Classroom: Yea, Nay Or A Third Way?

This is an ongoing debate throughout America’s school districts. I enjoyed this article by Anya Kamentez. It could make a great debate for middle and high school students.

By Anya Kamenetz
JANUARY 25, 2018

“If something on their desk or in their pocket dings, rings or vibrates — they will lose focus.”

“Students are doing so much in class, distraction and disruption isn’t really something I worry about.” How should teachers — both K-12 and college — deal with the use of computers and phones by students in class?

On the one hand, those sleek little supercomputers promise to connect us to all human knowledge. On the other hand, they are also scientifically designed by some of the world’s top geniuses to feel as compelling as oxygen. So where does that leave teachers? Should you ban these devices in the classroom? Let students go whole hog? Or is there a happy medium?

This seemingly simple topic ends up being what one professor and pedagogy expert calls “a Rorschach test for so much that’s going on in education.” Recently, the California state teachers’ pension fund weighed in — as a large investor in Apple, the makers of the iPhone. In an open letter, along with another activist shareholder, they called on the company to study digital distraction among youth and to make it easier to limit young people’s use.

The letter cited a national survey that found two-thirds of K-12 teachers said the number of students who are negatively distracted by digital technologies in the classroom is growing. Of those teachers surveyed, 75 percent said students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased.

SPONSORED BY

Research at the college level backs that up; a small, 2017 study at the University of Michigan found students in an introductory psychology course spent up to a third of class time surfing the web to non-academic sites — even though they knew that the researchers were tracking their computer use. Sounds ominous. But the debate over devices in the classroom has many more perspectives. I spoke with four professors, a high school teacher, a psychiatrist and a technologist to get a range of different views.

No way, no how

Allia Griffin teaches in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Santa Clara University in California. Her policy is simple: “Phones/devices must be turned off and not visible during class time.”

Her reason is simple too: “Phones are distracting. My experience has been that no matter how invested a student may be in a class discussion or lecture, if something on their desk or in their pocket dings, rings or vibrates — they will lose focus.”

And she worries about missed opportunities to socialize face-to-face. “Beyond being distracting, students also use phones/laptops/devices as objects to hide behind to avoid participating in class or interacting with their peers.”

Frequently, Griffin adds, “I will walk into a classroom on the first day of the quarter and will find 30 students sitting silently in their seats and individually texting or Instagram-ing on their phones. This is a tragic scene. The college classroom is … a unique space to exchange ideas and thoughts and develop the ability to communicate with a variety of people.”

“Candy” is unhealthy

Katherine Welzenbach teaches high school chemistry in Overland Park, Kan. She, too, bans cellphones — and even backpacks, where phones often hide — in her classes.

These devices are worse than distracting, she says. They can connect teens to cyberbullying, hate speech, sexting and other “unhealthy” experiences. Welzenbach is vocal about her stance, despite what she calls “shaming” of teachers like herself who take a hard line. “Teachers who see cell phones as distractions are often labeled as being ‘unengaging.’ ”

She understands the argument that teens need to learn to use the Internet appropriately. But she uses healthy eating as an analogy: Don’t give kids unlimited access to “Halloween candy and Christmas cookies while they are still learning to eat a balanced diet.”

Distraction has an upside

What you’re really talking about when you talk about laptop bans, says Jesse Stommel, is student freedom.

“Ultimately, I see strict laptop policies (and especially blanket bans) as a form of control,” explains Stommel, who directs the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

And that, he tells NPR, is a bad thing. “I don’t think the attention of students is actually something teachers can or should control.”

Stommel, who’s been engaged in many debates over laptop bans on Twitter, calls the issue “weirdly divisive” but also, in the end, “a red herring.”

Instead of an “authoritarian approach,” he suggests a conversation. “We can talk to students about attention and have them talk to us about how attention works for them,” Stommel says. “This is the kind of metacognitive work that is the stuff of learning.” Distraction, he adds, can actually be a gateway to learning. It can be necessary for “peak experiences like making connections, having epiphanies, understanding abstract concepts.”

There may also be times, he says, that the phone or computer can be an in-class tool. “We can also ask students to use their devices in ways that help them and the rest of the class, looking up a confusing term, polling their friends on Facebook about a topic we’re discussing or taking collaborative notes in an open document.”

On the other hand, says Stommel, there may be times and places to shut it down, too: “We can ask students to close their laptops at particular moments, recognizing that it is useful to learn different things, at different times, in different ways.”

Embrace diversity

Catherine Prendergast, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also believes that blanket bans are a bad idea. But her concern is a little different than Stommel’s. She’s thinking about students with special needs.

“Federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], extends to protect students’ classrooms,” she tells NPR. “If a student needs to use a laptop as an accommodation, they have a right to do so.”

But making the student ask to bring a laptop could be seen as an invasion of privacy, Prendergast says. Better to allow them for all: “The ADA enjoins us to affirmatively seek to remove barriers to education and to make our classrooms more inclusive, not less.”

Some students need to be device-free

Victoria Dunckley, a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and the author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, has a different perspective. She prescribes strict limits on screen time to young people who are suffering from a variety of psychological ills. She says she’s encountered “pushback” when trying to shield her patients from using devices at schools that have integrated them into the classroom.

If your students are distracted, then improve your teaching. Derek Bruff is a mathematician and director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He says research finds that note-taking by hand can lead to better recall than note-taking by typing on a computer. The reason is that when you write more slowly by hand, you have to think through what you’re hearing and put down only the most important bits; touch-typers tend to transcribe what a person is saying without doing much processing of what they’re hearing.

However, Bruff adds, comparing those two scenarios misses a point that’s backed up by even more research: Lecturing while someone takes notes is not a very engaging or effective mode of teaching to begin with.

“If you’re going to spend 80 to 100 percent of your class time lecturing, phones are going to be distracting to students,” he says.

What works much better? Getting students to collaborate and debate in small groups, for one thing. He’s also seen anecdotally that, “If you give students something productive and on-topic to do with their devices,” it reduces idle browsing. He calls this the “Google jockey” approach.

Like Stommel, he believes there is a time and a place for laptops and phones, but also a time and place to exclude them. “Sometimes you want three students around a piece of paper.”

Fight technology with technology

Alanna Harvey is the co-founder and marketing director of Flipd, a phone app that limits the use of your phone. You can set a timer to lock yourself out of all functions except for basic texts and phone calls.

Not long after launch, they noticed that college students were among their biggest user base, and began aiming the app at educators.

“Our research and discussions with customers have consistently found that digital distractions are negatively impacting the learning experience for students and educators,” she says.

Harvey argues that Flipd offers a fresh, not coercive approach. Rather than instituting a ban, the company encourages professors to offer extra credit for installing the app and using it during class.

Highly engaging lesson plans, as Bruff advocates, are all well and good, but they’re no match for the latest game or social network, Harvey says.

“Some of the most engaging professors I know are Flipd customers,” she says. “Which I believe suggests that the problem isn’t the professor, it may not even be the students, but it’s the devices we know that are designed to influence and manipulate our behavior in many ways.”

Bring policies in line with values

John Warner, who teaches English at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, has been on both sides of the device divide.

As recently as four years ago he had a policy of “no laptops in class, except for specific, designated activities,” and banned cell phones except for emergencies. But after engaging in debates online with Stommel and others, his position shifted.

He sees himself as “more of a catalyst for learning, rather than a conduit of information.” In order to live up to that value, he in turn needed his students to be what he calls “self-governing” over technology.

Warner says it’s been working well. He has small writing classes, with about 20 students, and he almost never asks them to simply sit and take notes. “Students are doing so much in class,” he says, “distraction and disruption isn’t really something I worry about. They’re too busy.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

College and Career Ready Workshop!!

This workshop will provide valuable information to parents and students. During this workshop parents will have the opportunity to raise important questions with a panel of educators from Columbia Public Schools, Mizzou & Columbia College.

Time: January 18, 2018

Address 1818 West Worley, Columbia, Missouri

Teacher perceptions and race

Fixed mindset compared to growth mindset.  Fixed mindsets work against the achievement of all students. When educators are of the mindset that all students cannot learn, he or she may be in the wrong profession.  This article from Brookings (Brown Center Chalkboard) sheds light on how teachers’ perceptions of their students can be harmful if teachers’ perceptions are fixed and they are opposed to a growth mindset.

(The young girl in the picture insisted on showing me what she learned in her ballet class.  I allowed her to demonstrate because I believed in her). Growth mindset. She was overjoyed to show me and her peers. Awesomeness!!

By: Dick Startz Monday, February 22, 2016

When it comes to student behavior, what’s polite or rude—what counts as acting out versus what’s seen as healthy youthful exuberance—depends not only on actual behavior but on how teachers read behavior. Black and white American cultures are still sufficiently different in that how teachers read behavior depends in part on the teacher’s race. New research shows that black and white teachers give very different evaluations of behavior of black students. When a black student has a black teacher that teacher is much, much less likely to see behavioral problems than when the same black student has a white teacher.

New research by Adam Wright, “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension,” documents that black teachers have much less negative views of black student behavior than do white teachers. (Conflict of interest notice…hmmm no, braggin’ notice: Wright is one of my PhD students.) Wright looks first at teacher evaluations of behavior, and then at data on school suspensions. Let’s begin with the teacher evaluations.

Wright uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to follow the experience of more than 20,000 students in kindergarten, first, third, and fifth grade. During the elementary school years, teachers were asked to assess a number of noncognitive skills. The measure of interest here is “externalizing problem behaviors,” which asks how often the student “argues, fights, gets angry, acts impulsively, and disrupts ongoing activities.” Notice that we see a measure of teacher perception, rather than counts of disciplinary events. Wright focuses on externalizing behavior because this measure is highly correlated with school suspensions.

On a scale in which the average measure of externalizing behavior is normalized to zero, white and Hispanic students average -0.07, while black students average +0.37. (Asian students average -0.38.) So on average, black students are viewed as having much worse behavior—which presumably reflects some combination of objectively worse behavior and perceived worse behavior.

Wright does something very clever, taking advantage of the fact that students are observed several times and that we know which students are in which classes with which teachers. Wright asks how black students are rated by black teachers, controlling for both the average rating of an individual student by all his teachers and for the average rating a particular teacher of all of her students in a given class. What this means is that Wright can identify how a black student’s behavior is perceived by a black teacher as compared to how the same student is perceived by white teachers. The procedure also adjusts for the possibility that black teachers are just more “easy going,” because the average rating given in a class is effectively subtracted off. So Wright is arguably identifying a causal effect of black students being matched with black teachers.

BEING RACE MATCHED MATTERS A LOT FOR BLACK STUDENTS BUT NOT FOR OTHERS

Bottom line: black teachers are much less likely to find problems with black students than white teachers are with the same students. The difference is enormous, accounting for about half the black/white externalizing behavior gap. (Remember that the data does not tell us whether black teachers have different perceptions of black students or whether student/teacher race matching leads to objectively different behavior.) For black students, being matched with a black teacher matters.

How about white or Hispanic students being matched with white or Hispanic teachers, respectively? Nope, no discernable differences in externalizing behavior. (To be clear, black teachers rate white students about the same as do white teachers.) In other words, being race matched matters a lot for black students but not for others.

Wright drills down further. First—and this is probably unsurprising—the effect of race matching is entirely due to the evaluations given to black boys. There isn’t a noticeable difference for black girls. Second, the effect of matching is limited to the year of the match. When Wright checked reports of black students when they were assigned to white teachers following a year with a black teacher he found no lingering effects of that year of being race-matched. This suggests that the findings reflect teacher perceptions rather than real behavioral differences since we might expect improvements in behavior to persist the following year—and that’s not what happens.

HOW SUSPENSION RATES BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE STUDENTS PLAY INTO RACE MATCHING

Wright then turns to the question of suspension. As is well known, black students are much more likely to be suspended than are white students. Wright shows that the more times a black student is matched with a black teacher, the less likely that student is to be suspended. Unfortunately, the data does not note the grade in which a suspension happened. It is reasonable to speculate that most suspensions come in later grades and that the finding is due in part to the effect of student-teacher race matching in earlier grades. We can’t be sure of this however, and some part of the finding may also be due to fewer suspensions of black students during years they have black teachers.

The difference in suspension rates is large. Taking these findings at face value, Wright estimates that if we doubled exposure of black students to black teachers, the black-white suspension gap would fall in half. Because of data limitations, it’s not possible to test whether black students’ likelihood of suspension changes when they move from a black teacher to a white teacher. Instead, Wright looks at black students who enter the same school at kindergarten but are exposed to different percentages of black teachers through eighth grade. So the causal interpretations about suspensions are less certain than are the interpretations about behavior reports.

In summary, black teacher perceptions about the behavior of black boys is very different than the perceptions of white teachers. This doesn’t happen for other racial groups. None of this necessarily suggests malice or prejudice or favoritism on anyone’s part. It does suggest one more way that race still matters in our schools.

Study Shows Strong Racial Identity Improves Academic Performance of Young Black Women

 

This is interesting research that continues to make the case for what it takes to educate all students. We have to move beyond the theory and take actions that improve academic performance for all students.

A new study led by Sheretta Butler-Barnes, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, finds that young African American women with strong racial identity are more likely to be academically curious and persistent in school.

Researchers surveyed 733 adolescent Black girls from middle and high schools across three socio-economically diverse school districts in the Midwest. The study found that racial identity and positive perceptions of school climate were associated with greater academic motivation. Moreover, the researchers learned that racial identity acted as a protective factor in hostile or negative school climates.

“Persons of color who have unhealthy racial identity beliefs tend to perform lower in school and have more symptoms of depression,” Dr. Butler-Barnes said. “In our study, we found that feeling positive about being Black, and feeling support and belonging at school may be especially important for African-American girls’ classroom engagement and curiosity. Feeling connected to the school may also work together with racial identity attitudes to improve academic outcomes.”

Dr. Butler-Barnes joined the Brown School in July 2012 as an assistant professor. Before coming to the Brown School, Butler-Barnes was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Education affiliated with the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context.

A graduate of Michigan State University, Dr. Butler-Barnes earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit.

The study, “Promoting Resilience Among African American Girls: Racial Identity as a Protective Factor.” was published on the website of the journal Child Development. It may be accessed here.

2018 ACT Personalized Learning Summit March 19-20, 2018

The Summit will feature action-oriented breakout sessions and motivating keynote speakers. Session topics include, but are not limited to:
Encouraging access and equity through technology
Successful K-12, postsecondary, and workforce partnerships
Increasing student preparedness for college and career
Social and emotional learning
Free resources from ACT
We are also happy to announce that Jaime Casap, Education Evangelist at Google, will provide an energetic kick-off to the Summit with his morning keynote on day one. You can check out his 2013 TEDx Talk here.
WHY YOU SHOULD ATTEND
button_register_blueEducation professionals will come together to discuss the diverse needs of today’s learners and learn a variety of methods to address these needs. You’ll learn about key education and workforce initiatives to help foster positive change throughout your community. Networking opportunities will provide time to get to know one another and discuss best practices in preparing all learners for college and career success.
DETAILS
WHEN
Monday, March 19, 2018 – Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ACT Personalized Learning Summit University of California Davis March 19-20, 2018

 

Last school year, I had the opportunity to conduct research with the help of the Class of 2017 regarding their perceptions of College and Career Readiness. ACT read some of my research work. As a result, American College Testing (ACT) has selected me to present my College Readiness research at the University of California ACT Summit. I will represent Columbia Public Schools in this awesome and exciting opportunity. I will have the platform which will allow me an opportunity to share some of the wonderful things happening in CPS. I too will have the pleasure of bringing back strategies that others are doing in the area of College & Career Readiness. My presentation will focus heavily on Non-Academic Factors. The description is below:

 

Non-Academic Factors Associated with College Readiness

First-Generation College Students (FGCS) and Non-FGCS more often than not focus on college preparedness through an academic lens and make major mistakes by overlooking non-academic factors such as family support, social integration, perseverance, and self-efficacy.  This session is designed to provide information and strategies regarding non-academic factors that have a colossal impact on students’ retention beyond first year of college (Brown, 2017).

http://www.cvent.com/events/2018-act-personalized-learning-summit/event-summary-b930d5cfa85c4d0286e6168322922fb5.aspx?lang=en&sms=3&refid=SHARE

 

A correlation between the Achievement Gap and Adverse Childhood Experiences

What exactly is an achievement gap?

The term “achievement gap” refers to disparities in the academic achievement of specific groups of students (Coleman et al., 1966). The achievement gap now measures four years: by the end of high school, African American and Latino students have skills in literacy (reading) and numeracy (mathematics) that are virtually identical to those of White students at the end of middle school (Lyman & Villani, 2004; Scherer, 2002-2003).

 What about the Achievement Gap once school years are over?

The achievement gap exists during school years, but when the school years are over the achievement gap becomes an opportunity gap. In other words, students become adults. In many cases, adults who will not be able to pay for everyday essentials such as food, purchase a home, have access to health, vision, or dental insurance.  The achievement gap can very well impact one’s life time earnings. Lower life time earnings can have a direct impact on where people live and what kids are exposed to as they grow up. Lower life time earnings can very well impact one’s credit score and put up barriers that prevent home ownership and sometimes prevent the opportunity to rent. Consequently, most are forced to live in low credit score neighborhoods. Low credit score neighborhoods can breed a host of negative exposures such as violence and childhood stressors. Low score neighborhoods are inundated with liquor stores, cigarette ads, and corner stores that sell nothing but unhealthy processed food. All of these factors add to negative childhood experiences.

Definition of Adverse Childhood Experiences/Trauma 

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions, in which: The individual experiences (subjectively) an existential threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity, such that the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed. (Saakvitne, 1995). Reactions to Traumatic Stress are as follow:  (Cormier, 2012 at NABSE Conference)

  • Re-experiencing symptoms: intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, re-living, dissociating, high reactivity to reminders
  • Arousal symptoms: Hypervigilance, hyperarousal (heightened emotional experiencing and slow return to baseline), feeling edgy, difficulty falling asleep, midnight or early morning awakenings, heightened irritability and aggression (Cormier, 2012 NABSE)
  • Avoiding symptoms: refusal to talk about event, avoiding traumatic reminders, social withdrawal, detachment, numbing (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition).
  • The person experiencing traumatic stress never gets a break from it. They feel as though they are always “on.”
  • The combination of always being on, of re-experiencing and of trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid re-experiencing contribute to the person’s feeling as though they are coming apart or going crazy(Cormier, 2012 NABSE Conference).
  • To others, the person’s inability to control their emotions, withdrawal from normal social interchange, and active distrust of everything, make that person very difficult to engage. Thus, the very people who could become a source of support become a source of antagonism (Cormier, 2012 NABSE conference Nashville, Tennessee)
  • This combination of the inability to regulate emotions, the inability to trust others and the inability to attend to the present moment is quite destructive of the kind of executive and integrative functioning necessary for academic success.

When students come up in high violence areas they are more than not exposed to adverse childhood experiences. Adverse Childhood experiences such as drugs, child abuse, sexual abuse, incarceration of love ones, drug use by caretakers, and gun violence. When a child is habitually exposed to these kind of stressors, they can become traumatized prior to entering kindergarten. This traumatization has a colossal impact on the child’s behavior and the ability to learn.  Some researchers would say the child is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The same PTSD soldiers experience due to combat from serving in the military during wartime.  Researchers admit the PTSD suffered by students never turns off. As a result, all adults such as the school system should be in the know and have established a plan that effectively addresses the trauma or unwanted behavior.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Presented by Matthew A. Munich, PhD, LCSW Trauma Clinician Family Service of Rhode Island, 2012 at NABSE Conference Nashville, Tennessee)

  • A study commissioned by Kaiser Permanente involving 17,000 patients surveyed by their primary care physician to make a connection between health outcomes and “Adverse Child Events” (A.C.E.). 12,000 patients responded. These were people who were predominately middle to upper middle class Caucasian. 74% had attended college, with an average age of 57.
  • Responders were given 1 point for every childhood adverse experience: physical, emotional or sexual abuse, absent or addicted caregiver, parental divorce, domestic violence, mentally ill caregiver.

ACE SCORE

  • Score of 4 or higher: twice as likely to smoke, seven times as likely to become alcoholics, six times as likely to have had sex before 15.
  • 4 or higher: One is twice as likely to have cancer, twice as likely to have heart disease, and four times as likely to suffer from emphysema or chronic bronchitis. 12 times as likely to have attempted suicide than those with an ACE score of 0.
  • Men with an ACE score of 6 or higher were 46 times as likely to have injected drugs than men who had no history of ACEs (acestudy.org; Tough, 2011).

Nadine Burke & The ACE Study

  • Bayview Health Clinic, a San Francisco public health clinic, Nadine Burke administers a modified version of the ACE study questionnaire to her patients at every yearly exam. This time, the median age was 7, rather than 57.  700 patients were surveyed.
  • 69% had an ACE score of 1.  12% have an ace of 4 or higher.
  • In addition to health outcomes being more negative already for this population, Burke saw a correlation between children’s ACE score and school performance.
  • The conclusion being drawn from this is that the glucocorticoids that flood the young brain as a result of adverse childhood events adversely affect its normal development. These findings mirror studies from the late 60s and early 70s  led to the great literacy movement, with government programs like Head Start.  (Tough, 2011)

As the author of this article, my purpose is to provide information that is beneficial for teachers, districts, families and most of all the information is helpful for improving students’ quality of life both academically and socially.  It is essential for all educators to understand their students’ life experiences. By doing so, immensely improves the opportunity for students to be successful.

Wheatley, Margaret J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

 

This is a fascinating article by one of my all time favorites, Margaret Wheatley.

As we grapple with social and educational issues that plague our school systems and country,  I find it extremely necessary to read this article. This article continues to make the case 15 years later. We must turn to one another. We cannot do the necessary things in isolation.  We must challenge our mental models (Senge, 1993) and continue to enhance our thoughts and actions through Personal Mastery (Senge, 1993).  Read this article over and over. More importantly, I hope this read motives action steps for change that impacts social justice.

 

Wheatley, Margaret J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future San Francisco: Berrett-Koshler Publishers, Inc., 2002

“Willing to Be Disturbed”

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally—our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.

We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. We’ve also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don’t have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do.

But the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet, slow days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.

It is very difficult to give up our certainties—our positions, our beliefs, our explanations. These help define us; they lie at the heart of our personal identity. Yet I believe we will succeed in changing this world only if we can think and work together in new ways. Curiosity is what we need. We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we don need to be curious about what someone else believes. We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival.

We live in a dense and tangled global system. Because we live in different parts of this complexity, and because no two people are physically identical, we each experience life differently. It’s impossible for any two people to ever see things exactly the same. You can test this out for yourself. Take

any event that you’ve shared with others (a speech, a movie, a current event, a major problem) and ask your colleagues and friends to describe their interpretation of that event. I think you’ll be amazed at how many different explanations you’ll hear. Once you get a sense of diversity, try asking even more colleagues. You’ll end up with a rich tapestry of interpretations that are much more interesting than any single one.

To be curious about how someone else interprets things, we have to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring things out alone. If our solutions don’t work as well as we want them to, if our explanations of why something happened don’t feel sufficient, it’s time to begin asking others about what they see and think. When so many interpretations are available, I can’t understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another.

There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me. What did I just hear that startled me? This isn’t easy – I’m accustomed to sitting there nodding my head to those saying things I agree with. But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more dearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.

I hope you’ll begin a conversation, listening for what’s new. Listen as best you can for what’s different, for what surprises you. See if this practice helps you learn something new. Notice whether you develop a better relationship with the person you’re talking with. If you try this with several people, you might find yourself laughing in delight as you realize how many unique ways there are to be human.

We have the opportunity many times a day, everyday, to be the one who listens to others, curious rather than certain. But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer. When we listen with less judgment, we

always develop better relationships with each other. It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do curiosity and good listening bring us back together.

Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don’t want to change. We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that’s true, we have to listen more, not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. We rediscover we’re creative.

As the world grows more strange and puzzling and difficult, I don’t believe most of us want to keep struggling through it alone, I can’t know what to do from my own narrow perspective. I know I need a better understanding of what’s going on. I want to sit down with you and talk about all the frightening and hopeful things I observe, and listen to what frightens you and gives you hope. I need new ideas and solutions for the problems I care about. I know I need to talk to you to discover those. I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine. I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don’t have to agree with each other in order to think well together. There is no need for us to be joined at the head. We are joined by our human hearts.

Hands down, Numeric Literacy is the Global Language

Algebra: Gateway to College Success Starts in Middle School

Nearly every school district across the United States has a phrase in its school’s vision statement or related to preparation of students to compete on the Global Stage or to prepare for a Global Society.  When considering mathematics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2015 and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, results indicate American students are lagging behind other industrial countries’ students.  American students will have to compete with these same students in the future. When considering STEM jobs, much of the competition will take place on computer keyboards.  Many companies compete  across the globe and the employee is at home, in their office, or in some facility that has  wireless connection. To truly compete on a global stage, we have to do a significantly better job of educating our youth with numeric literacy.   “Numeracy is defined as the ability to access, use and interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of various situations in adult years. To be numerate is to confidently and effectively use mathematics to meet the everyday demands of life.” (Bendigo Kangan Institute, 2017).

Middle school and high school are absolutely necessary times for early postsecondary planning, and many educational institutions and the U.S. Department of Education suggest that students begin considering and planning for college as early as sixth grade (National Association for College Admission Counseling, 1999). Early planning gives students the opportunity to take the necessary middle and high school courses to ensure preparedness for postsecondary education, and align their educational benchmarks with their current course taking and educational planning. Schools can play a vital role in guiding early preparation for college or careers through fostering academic preparation and achievement, supporting parent involvement, providing college and career planning essentials, and aiding students through the multiple steps in college and career planning. Early postsecondary planning may not be the case for all students. Too many students are failing to engage in the early planning activities that can be extremely beneficial in getting ready for college. It could be considered too late to start preparing for college in the 11th or 12th grade. By this time, students have missed opportunities to take rigorous courses as well as all the math high schools have to offer.  Rigorous mathematics provide students with leverage to meet the challenges of college.

Middle school students who take rigorous courses such as Algebra I can obtain information about college opportunities and are likely to apply to a four-year university (Atanda, 1999; National Commission on the High School Senior Year, 2001). This is especially true among minority and first-generation college students.  Those who take higher-level math courses are more likely to attend college (Horn & Nuñez, 2000). As it relates to equity and Civil Rights, Kaupt (1998) suggests all should have the right to algebra. Having taken algebra by 8th grade allow students to take high school course sequences including calculus by senior year. Therefore, it is imperative students take algebra by 8th grade (Kaput, 1998).

Algebra is considered the gateway to taking advanced mathematics offered by high schools, which leads to knowledge and skills needed to meet Geometry, Algebra II, and Calculus rigor (Gaertner, Kim, DesJardins, & McClarity, 2013). The completion of these higher math courses aid students for success in college, technically skilled jobs, as well as more lifetime career earnings. Math Pathways and Pitfalls (2013) suggest students who complete challenging math courses double their chances of graduating from college compared to students who do not. “Failure in algebra is the #1 trigger of dropouts in high school” (Helfand, 2007).

The Importance of Algebra II

“The mathematics courses students take in high school affect their academic achievement and their admission to competitive postsecondary schools and professional programs” (Schiller & Muller, 2003, p. 300). Adelman (2006) states, when students complete high-level mathematic courses such as Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Trigonometry, and Calculus these are the most significant predictors of achieving in postsecondary systems.

DesJardins, Gaertner, Kim, and McClarity (2013), Preparing Students for College & Careers: The Causal Role of Algebra II looked at the impacts of taking Algebra II in high school.

Research findings suggest completing Algebra II is necessary for college outcomes for all post-secondary institutions, but not necessarily for career outcomes. Students who completed Algebra II in high school were more likely to be accepted to college, sustain higher grade point averages, remain in college, and most of all graduate from college. Moreover,  students who did not complete Algebra II do not achieve the same outcomes. Students who did not apply to college after high school, completing Algebra II was not essential to finding a job immediately after high school, earning occupational prestige, earnings, or career advancement (Gaertner, Kim, DesJardins, & McClarty, 2013).              Fong, Huang, and Goel, (2008) state students who complete Algebra II increase their opportunity for not needing remedial courses once enrolled in college. In fact, completing Algebra II was essential for improving college preparedness as it relates to minority students (Evan, Gray, and Olchefske, 2006).

In summary, the data provides evidence regarding Algebra and the importance of algebra beyond the walls of school.  The importance of Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II and other advanced math courses are extremely important and significant predictors for college admission and sustainability beyond a student’s freshman year of college.

Advanced Placement Math

High schools throughout the country, now offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses in mathematics and science. These courses are known as pre-college readiness subjects. Adelman (2006) urges students to complete at least two years of AP courses in math. High school students who perform well on AP examinations triple their chances of obtaining a four-year college degree as opposed to students who do not pass the AP test (National Science Foundation, 2007). Subsequently, the percentage for completing a four-year degree is even higher for African American students. Many students, especially low-income students, misjudge what essential classes they must enroll to properly prepare themselves for two and four-year colleges. It is severely important for guidance counselors to ensure they are providing all students with valid information regarding the importance of Algebra’s impact on college preparedness.  Rigorous math course completion also improve students’ ACT scores (ACT, 2010; 2012).

Advanced Math Courses and the Minority Student

What is true for the high school population in general is true for African American and Hispanic students whose college graduation rates are more positively impacted than any other group through by having a rigorous curriculum and teachers competent in their subject area (Wimberly & Noeth, 2005). Students who complete Algebra II, double their chances of graduating from a four-year college as opposed to those students do not (Wimberly & Noeth, 2005). Furthermore, failure or less than mediocre achievement in minimum college ready courses such as Algebra is a major problem impacting urban secondary education, which also negatively impacts African Americans, Hispanics, and other students of color.

Stein, Kaufman, Sherman, and Hillen (2011), research findings suggest there are inequities regarding those who take  Algebra in 8th or 9th grade. This is common for minority students, lower income students, and students whose parents have minimum education (Filer & Chang, 2008; Gamoran & Hannigan, 2000; McCoy, 2005; Shakrani, 1996; Walston & McCarroll, 2010). According to research by Stone (1998), these demographic inequities in Algebra have been evident since the early 1990s in large urban school districts. The data disclosed a couple of reason for this imbalance, including under-preparedness and subjective placement factors. Not taking rigorous math courses in high school can have substantial ramifications for a student’s future job earnings and social success. If students do not take advanced math courses in high school, and they plan on going to college, “a student is effectively frozen out of the highly compensated, highly sought after fields of science, technology, engineering, and math known as STEM” (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013, p. 2).

Some studies revealed when students are selected to take advanced math courses, a host of minority and low-income students are excluded from taking Algebra, even if their test scores are proficient or advanced. Stone’s (1998) research shows that students of upper financial status are more likely to be enrolled in Algebra I and Geometry as opposed to their lower income peers who scored proficient or advanced with their test scores (Stein, Kaufman, Sherman, & Hillen, 2011; Walston & McCaroll, 2010). Horn and Bobbitt (2000) disclosed “fewer first-generation college students are taking eighth grade Algebra compared to students with parents who were college graduates” (Stein, Kaufman, Sherman, & Hillen, 2011, p. 461).

California considers taking Algebra a civil right for students. To ensure students are not being overlooked or misplaced due to origin or social economic status, the state of California educators may face substantial legal liability for misplacement of students in math courses. This is due to California based universities require college eligible math courses such as Advanced Placement Statistics or Calculus. “Purposeful placement decisions that disproportionately impact minority students violate state and federal laws” (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013, p. 4).

The opportunity to take these advanced math courses can only be achieved if students complete algebra by 8th grade and enters high school enrolled Geometry. Students not having the opportunity to complete advanced math courses can negatively impact college success and long-term opportunities forever (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013). The most alarming concerns California has with misplacing students in advanced math courses due to social economic status (SES) or race occurs when a student has adequately “completed Algebra I in middle school and is forced to repeat Algebra I in 9th grade. When this happens, the student is immediately made less competitive for college admission” (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013, p. 4). The research study conducted by the state of California for nine districts between San Mateo and Santa Clara counties research findings revealed 65% of students who completed Algebra 1 in 8th grade were mandated to take the same Algebra 1 course again in the ninth grade. The same study revealed more than 42% of students mandated to take Algebra I again in 9th grade earned a B- grade or higher while in 8th grade. The students were more often than not minority and low-income students (Brown, Hadjimarkos, & Rogers, 2013). In order for United States of America to remain an elite figure on the global platform, it must be a priority to ensure a larger percentage of our secondary students enroll in college and complete a degree in an adequate time period.

National Assessment of Educational Progress states the “overwhelming number of low-achieving students in Algebra are black and Hispanic and attend big urban high-poverty schools where they are more likely to fall through the cracks” (Loveless, 2008, p. 8). More often than not, low-income and minority students tend to be the least likely to engage in early and timely educational planning. Low-income communities may lack educational planning information (Freeman, 1999). Schools serving low-income districts have an urgent role and moral imperative to prepare students and help them plan for the future and narrow the opportunity gap.

STEM and Future Careers

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) require a strong foundation in math. Society moved from an agricultural society to an industrial society and people moving to the city from the countryside for better paying industry jobs realized they needed postsecondary training for the purpose of obtaining the newly created industry jobs.  Today, we are living in the information age.  An era which has created a host of STEM careers and require a healthy dose of numeric literacy. “We are all required to be numerate to maximize our potential and to make a positive contribution to society. In our exceedingly technical world, numeracy skills, in particular the ability to interpret data, are becoming increasingly more significant and are hugely sought after by employers. An absence of mathematical confidence and poor numeracy skills are obstructions to employment as numeracy tests are increasingly becoming a routine part of the recruitment process” (Bendigo Kangan Institute, 2017).  Math is the most important course in every country, Hands down.

References

ACT, Inc. (2010). Mind the gaps: How college readiness narrows achievement gaps in college success. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/ pdf/MindTheGaps.pdf

ACT, Inc. (2010). The condition of college and career readiness. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.www.libproxy.wvu.edu/ehost/

ACT, Inc. (2012). Creating your explore and plan: Road map to student success. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/education/benchmarks.html

Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the tool box: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/Toolbox/index.html

Adelman, C. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http:/www.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/toolboxrevisit/index.html

Atanda, R. (1999). Do gatekeeper courses expand education options? Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs99/1999303.pdf

Bendigo Kangan Institute (2017). The importance of literacy and numeric skills. Retrieved November 28, 2017 from https://www.kangan.edu.au/students/blog/importance-literacy-and-numeracy-skills

Brown, G., Hardimarkos, S., & Rogers, A. (2013). Held back: Addressing misplacement of 9th grade students in Bay Area School math classes. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from http://www.lccr.com/?s=held+back

Evan, A., Gray, T., & Olchesfke, J. (2006). The gateway to student success in mathematics and science. Washington, DC: American Institutes of Research.

Filer, K. L., & Chang, M. (2008). Peer and parent encouragement of early algebra enrollment and mathematics achievement. Middle Grades Research Journal, 3(1), 23–34.

Fong, A. B., Huang, M., & Goel, A. M. (2008). Examining the links between grade 12 mathematics coursework and mathematics remediation in Nevada public colleges and universities. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Freeman, K. (1999). The race factor in African Americans’ college choice. Urban Education, 34, 4–25.

Gaertner, M., Kim, J., DesJardins, S., & McClarity, K. (2013). Preparing students for college and careers: The casual role of algebra II. Research in Higher Education, 55(2), 143-165

Gamoran, A., & Hannigan, E. C. (2000). Algebra for everyone? Benefits of college-preparatory mathematics for students with diverse abilities in early secondary school. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22(3), 241-254.

Helfand, D. (2007, January 26). Formula for failure in L.A. schools. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/news/education/la-medropout30jan30,0,405044,full.story?coll=la-news-learning

Horn, L., & Nuñez, A. (2000). Mapping the road to college: First-generation students’ math track, planning strategies, and context of support. (NCES 2000–153). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Kaput, J. J. (1998). Transforming algebra from an engine of inequity to an engine of mathematical power by “algebraifying” the K–12 curriculum. In The nature and role of algebra in the K–14 curriculum: Proceedings of a national symposium. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/ PDFS/ED441664.pdf

Loveless, T. (2008, September). The misplaced math student: Lost in eighth-grade algebra. Washington, DC: Brown Center on Education Policy at The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/ rc/reports/2008/0922_education_loveless/0922_education_loveless.pdf

McCoy, L. P. (2005). Effect of demographic and personal variables on achievement in eighth-grade algebra. Journal of Educational Research, 98(3), 131–135. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27548070

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2011; 2015). The nation’s report card: Science, grade 12 national results. Retrieved from http://nationsreportcard.gov/ science_2009/g12_nat.asp?tab_id=tab2&subtab_id=tab_1#tabscontainer

National Association for College Admission Counseling. (1999). PACT: Parents and counselors together program. Alexandria, VA: Author.

National Commission on the High School Senior Year. (2001). The lost opportunity of the senior year: Finding a better way. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Programme for International Student Assessment. (2015). Results in focus. Retrieved November 28, 2017 from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf

Schiller, K. S., & Muller, C. (2003). Raising the bar and equity? Effects of state high school graduation requirements and accountability policies on students’ mathematics course taking. Educational Evaluation and Policy Studies, 25(3), 299-318. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3699497

Shakrani, S. (1996). Eighth-grade algebra coursetaking and mathematics proficiency (NAEP FACTS Vol. 1, No. 2). Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED396915.pdf

Stein, M., Kaufman, J., Sherman, M., & Hillen, A. (2011). Algebra: A challenge at the crossroads of policy and practice. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 453–492.

Stone, C. (1998). Leveling the playing field: An urban school system examines equity in access to mathematics curriculum. Urban Review, 30, 295–307.

Walston, J., & McCarroll, J. (2010). Eighth-grade algebra: Findings form the eighth grade round of the early childhood longitudinal study, kindergarten class of 1998–99 (NCES-2010–016). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Wimberly, G. L., & Noeth, R. J. (2005). College readiness begins in middle school. ACT policy report. Ames, IA: ACT, Inc.