Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Education”

Sorry Kids, Schools Need More Testing, Not Less

Ulrich Boser 2

In education circles, testing has become the villain of the day. Kids declare exams to be a waste of time while educators argue that the anxiety around tests produces a “toxic environment.” Families loathe exams, too, as I learned when doing some research on assessments, with parents often viewing tests as either a distraction from more important activities or as “testing for testing’s sake.”

But when it comes to learning, it turns out, the best research shows that exams help learning rather than harm it, and most schools and universities actually should be doing more testing, not less of it. A large and growing body of studies indicates that assessments help students learn. More — and better — testing programs can also help teachers teach.

Cutting against the grain of all the negative chatter about tests, some cognitive psychologists, including Yana Weinstein at University of Massachusetts Lowell, have declared themselves to be “champions” of testing.

The catch is that the tests have to be the right kinds of tests. The exams that spark learning typically tend to have lower stakes, they have more open-ended questions, and they are given often enough to provide clear feedback to teachers and students. But if they’re well designed, tests have been proven to help students achieve mastery of the subject material — not just evaluate progress.

 

This piece ran in VoxRead more here.

A Better Way to Learn in City Schools

Ulrich Boser 0

In a small classroom, Keoni Scott-Reid provided his opening statement. Scott-Reid had been assigned to argue against mass surveillance programs in an Urban Debate League tournament in Washington, D.C., and standing in the front of the room, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, he spoke in rat-tat-tat bursts like a teenage cattle auctioneer.

Scott-Reid argued that mass surveillance programs operated on a slippery moral slope. He quoted Benjamin Franklin: "It is much easier to suppress a first desire than to satisfy those that follow." And then laid out several lines of argument, pointing out how surveillance can promote lawlessness. "Aggressive policing," he said, is "perpetuating the criminality that it's advocating to stop."

Scott-Reid's arguments won over the judge. His logic was tighter. He had better examples, and as the judge pointed out, Scott-Reid had expertly rebutted his opponent. "I know you like to get a rise out of people," the judge told him.

While arguing is as old as humanity, formal debating has its roots in ancient Greece. The practice has experienced a renaissance in recent years, and over the past decade, the number of students enrolled in urban debate programs has more than doubled to more than 10,000 students with more than 600 participating schools. For experts, the programs give students a way to develop crucial reasoning skills – and provide an effective way to help students learn about social issues.

 

This piece ran in US News and World Report and was an excerpt from my book. More here.

Say No To Highlighters, Yes to Flash Cards

Ulrich Boser 0

I had a fun interview with the Seattle Times

By the time he was in fourth grade, Ulrich Boser had been labeled a slow learner. He’d already repeated kindergarten, and a psychologist sent to observe him in a classroom described him as a frustrated, inattentive and distracted 11-year-old.

In hindsight, Boser now knows that he had not yet been taught something essential: He didn’t know how to learn.

 

Boser had some specific challenges, including a learning disorder that makes it difficult to follow auditory details. Over time, he got help from his teachers to develop basic learning strategies, and he expanded on those skills, eventually figuring out for himself how to focus his attention.

 

Read more here. 

Five Popular Myths About Learning That Are Totally Wrong

Ulrich Boser 0

 

You’ve made it this far in life, so you probably think you know how you learn new information. But it turns out that false beliefs about teaching and learning are a problem that we carry with us throughout our lives, says Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or How to Become an Expert In Just About Anything.

“We’re learning all the time, figuring out how to use new tools,” he says. “When you get a new smartphone or system at work, you need to gain new skills to use it. How you do that impacts your success.”

Unfortunately, there is a gap between conventional wisdom and facts when it comes to the process of learning, says Boser. “There are so many myths,” he says. “A lot of people don’t give much thought to the best way to gain new knowledge and skills. But learning is often a form of mental doing, and the more someone is actively engaged, the more they learn.”

Through studies and research, Boser identified several myths about learning that can make the process more difficult.

 

Betsy DeVos has invested millions in this ‘brain training’ company. So I checked it out.

Ulrich Boser 0

A technician snapped a stretchy electrode cap onto my head, and I felt a cold pinch as she affixed each sensor to my scalp with a dose of icy gel. Perched on an office chair, with a rainbow of wires spiraling from my head, I followed the tech’s instructions to stare at a small orange object while an EEG recording device measured the electrical activity in various regions of my brain.

I was checking out the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., branch of Neurocore, a “brain performance” company owned by the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos resigned her Neurocore board seat when she joined the Trump Cabinet, but she and her husband maintain a financial stake of between $5 million and $25 million, according to a financial disclosure statement filed with the Office of Government Ethics. The DeVoses’ private-equity firm, Windquest, identifies Neurocore as part of its “corporate family.” The Windquest website posts Neurocore news and includes links for job seekers to apply to Neurocore openings.

In other words, the family has a lot riding on Neurocore’s claims that it can help you “train your brain to function better” — addressing problems as diverse as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep, memory loss and migraines. “Unlike medication, which temporarily masks your symptoms, neurofeedback promotes healthy changes in your brain to provide you with a lasting solution,” touts a Neurocore overview video. “. . . We’ve helped thousands of people strengthen their brain to achieve a happy, healthier, more productive life for years to come.” The company currently has nine offices in Michigan and Florida, though there’s been talk of making a national move.

When the DeVos-Neurocore connection made headlines during her confirmation hearings, I was skeptical of the company’s claims. I had come across brain training while working on a book, “Learn Better,” about the science of learning. The field is rife with vague and overblown promises. Last year, the creators of Lumosity paid a $2 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission to settle a complaint that they deceptively advertised that their memory exercises could improve everyday performance and stave off memory loss.

Neurocore hasn’t been subject to any federal complaints, chief executive Mark Murrison told me. But my impression was that the company’s premise runs counter to an immense body of research suggesting that the human brain isn’t all that trainable. Study upon study has failed to support a game or a tool that can boost intellectual RAM.

So what is our education secretary doing investing millions in a brain performance firm? I couldn’t find any public remarks by DeVos about Neurocore or brain training. Her spokesman at the Department of Education did not respond to my requests for comment. But in January, Neurocore’s chief medical officer, Majid Fotuhi, asserted to the New York Times that “Betsy DeVos really believes in improving brain performance and helping children who have syndromes such as attention deficit disorder.”

I wanted to understand what Neurocore was about.

Read the rest of the story on the Washington Post.