fault-tolerant education

Posted on May 3, 2013

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<procrastinating ramble>

Not sure whether it’s made my blogs or not, but we’re gathering resources to get ready to blaze a trail and (re-)design our “Transitions” course this summer (to teach it for real in the fall).  The plan:  Build procedural skills on solid conceptual foundations — oh, yea, assess the conceptual foundations, and we’ve got a tool for that (there’s also one at https://mathreasoninginventory.com/  ).

Another premise is that our students’ lives are complicated, so we have to build in a certain degree of utter redundancy.   This, I think, can be *hugely* helped with blended learning. Let’s back up everything in the classroom online. Let’s back up everything online in the classroom.

The other big deal:   build those concepts with genuine “concrete to abstract” learning.   This stuff of “oh,yea, here’s a visual example” in the middle and then “okay, back to your regularly scheduled symbols” with minimal or no connection is for the birds. I’ve seen what the real thing can do (those years at The New Community School)  . It’s not quick, but it’s profound.

I let myself be distracted by a tweet to video of the NCTM conference speakers, specifically Uri Treisman and the “Keeping Our Eyes On THe Prize: Iris M. Carl Equity Address” at  http://www.nctm.org/conferences/content.aspx?id=36436#equity .   When he started, I thought I was going to hear another “oh, those studies that say we’re not doing a good job — they’re bogus. Our teachers are wonderful and we’re doing fine. It’s just…” [insert oversimplified “solution” here].

He did say that some of the conclusions drawn were bogus — the conclusions with the simple answers.  He then outlined some pretty stark inequities, with several memorable points:   Common Core wasn’t created by math teachers — but wasn’t inherently evil, either.  It was simply the responsibility of the math teachers to subvert it and use it. That got applause 🙂    Secondly, reminding me of the lady from dreambox.com, he stated that accidents of birth (your location or economic standing) had entirely too much influence on educational opportunities and that we need to change that.

He also quoted Donald T. Campbell about how when measurements of stuff we want to change get really important, they are most prone to corruption (as the appearance of change gets more important than actual change).

Then came a story about Boeing, post-WWII, and “the importance of having the right theory of failure,” and how Boeing became the industry leader because they decided that “flying is HARD!”  and there were *many* reasons a plane could fail, with catastrophic results, and so, therefore, everything should be “fault-tolerant.” They did pro-active planning, assuming problems, instead of after-the-crash reactions.

Treisman followed with “Poverty SUCKS,” and that we should develop “fault tolerant” education.

Well, thank you sir 🙂   Did I mention that we’d planned on built-in redundancies?  It’s nice to hear it validated… and he also said:

“If we’re going to work on raising the level of our international competitiveness through education, it’s not going to happen by improving the educational outcomes of people in the top quartile of income.”

Can blended learning address this?  Can we find ways of addressing the faults created by poverty and the “Digital Fault Line” per http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edtechresearcher/2013/05/the_digital_fault_line_background.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW … while also letting fault-jumpers not be held back by a sea of torpid redundancy?   As it stands, folks with advantage at least get angry at being held back; other folks just assume things are muddling along because that’s all they can do (which reminds me of the other statistical tidbits from that address — that white & Asian kiddos in the top quartile were far, far more likely to be placed in higher level math courses than African-American or Latino kiddos of that same status).

</procrastinating ramble>

Time to get back to that d.fellowship application 😉

Posted in: math, visual math