Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teaching Test

A local university was looking to hire a new faculty member. Part of the selection process was to give a teaching demonstration to evaluate the teaching skills of the new hire. The only issue is that that teaching demonstration was giving only to members of the faculty. Though faculty members might be able to discern teaching skills, it is still difficult to determine if the students will benefit from his/her teaching skills.

Since the faculty already knows the material and has taught the material for so long, it is difficult to determine if the average student would have difficulty understanding the lecture. Since the faculty member already knows the material he/she uses his/her knowledge and understanding to fill-in any gaps in explanation or presentation. -Explanation bias once again.

The solution is to test the instructor in front of actual students. Here are the details, suppose the school has 10 candidates, then the school will then choose 10 classes all at the same level (for example Math 50 or whatever numbering system). Since each class has different students, the school can control for student performance by choosing classes with the same overall standardized test scores (standardized tests given by the school). Since different subjects in math may be more or less difficult for students, all the classes chosen to test the candidate will be at the same section in the book.

Now that the school has controlled for several variables, the candidate is then asked to prepare a lecture and to instruct one of the chosen classes. After maybe one or two classes the students are then given an mini-test to determine the quality of instruction, AND are given a questionnaire to determine what the students think of the candidate.

This is probably the most objective way to test the instruction skills of a candidate.

John G.

Focus Groups

In my previous posts, I suggested the idea that focus groups with students might be a good idea, the only issue is that it is difficult to get students to participate, even with nice incentives.

There are several solutions:

1. Offer the students extra credit if they attend the focus group.

2. Print up a questionnaire, and have every instructor in the school give the questionnaire to their students in class and have the students answer the questionnaire in class. Schools may opt to make the questionnaire scantron based to make tabulation easier. Since all students must register for classes, a school may opt to require answering the questionnaire before the student can register for classes. This may be done by computer, since many students register via computer.

3. If a questionnaire is unsuitable then you may have to find other ways to get students to participate. The guiding principle behind this is to "catch" students into participating by combining the focus group into activities which the students have no other choice but participate. For example, since students must attend class most of the time, a school may choose certain classes, at random, to participate in the focus group. The instructor will be notified, that his/her class was selected to take part and a focus group leader will lead the session in the classroom.

John g.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Practice Exam Score Analysis

It would be ideal if a scantron machine where developed that could automatically upload test results to a central computer, basically a networked scantron machine. In this manner the principal or whoever manages the student test outcomes of the school can, on a daily basis, get a view of the practice test scores throughout the school.

Everyday the person in charge can determine if test scores are increasing and are on track to meet their goals by the end of the year. In addition the administration can determine if certain programs are working or not working by looking at the overall school test scores. In this manner the administration is not surprised with low test scores at the end of the year. Now, in order to accurately guage student performance the school will need a standard by which to compare the test scores. Not in terms of test itself, rather in terms of the percentage of students who score above a certain amount. Even if these standards are exceedingly high, it is better to set high standards and miss than to set low standards and meet them.

John G.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Teaching Pt. 18 Addendum

As an addendum to my previous post on studying, it may also be helpful to teach and constantly emphasize time management techniques. In many respects a large part of studying is time management. Without effective time management, productive studying becomes difficult, if not impossible. Without sufficient time to study and correctly do the homework, doing well at school becomes difficult.

Time management allows the student to organize their time such that they do well at school, spend quality time with friends and family, and work (if need be). In this manner the student is not constantly worrying about studying during their free time or constantly wishing he or she had more free time during study time.

So it may be helpful if middle schools, high schools, and even colleges suggest and constantly emphasize some of the most effective time management techniques. Some schools may even go so far as to produce actual study and life schedules of some of their most effective students. This way it becomes easier for the student to structure their time so that they can have a life AND do well at school. In fact some colleges actually instruct their students on time management and studying.

Effective time management is even more critical as the student approaches adulthood and enters the workforce. As a student leaves high school and enters college time management and studying is even more important since the room for error is smaller and the classes more demanding. As the student graduates college, and enters the workforce time management will allow him/her to do quality work without excessive effort.

If a student can master time management and studying, then success is almost assured.

John G.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tutoring Center

In a recent meeting of colleges throughout the southwest, the value of on campus tutoring centers was discussed. On campus tutoring centers, for the most part, help increase student achievement and retention.

Another idea that most colleges find useful is, supplemental instruction. Supplemental instructors are students who have either already taken the class, or can tutor the material in the class. They sit in during the lecture and after class or at some other time, they meet with the class to review the material and answer questions. One college took it one step further, during the supplemental instruction period they first watch a video that pertains to the material covered in class, then they help the students with questions.

Some of the issues with supplemental instruction are finding qualified people and constant turnover since supplemental instructors graduate high school, college, or go to a 4 year university.

Some of the issues with the tutoring center are staffing and attendance. It is not sufficient to have a tutoring center if it is not staffed with qualified, capable people. Most tutoring centers hire high performing students to tutor other students, the only problem is that there may not be sufficient students willing to tutor to make the tutoring center effective. Not to mention that the best student-tutors graduate high school, or go on to a 4 year university, so tutoring centers are constantly losing their best tutors. One way to address this problem is to require instructors in the college or high school to tutor at the center a couple of hours per week.

The number of hours can be dependent on the number of units the instructor teaches (at a college) or some other method (at a high school). Now, teacher's unions may have an issue with this, since the instructors are made to tutor. This problem can be resolved without alienating the teacher's unions. It's all a matter of incentives, money is not the only incentive, what good is money if much of your free time is taken up grading papers? Grading papers-an equally powerful incentive. So if requiring instructors to tutor at the center causes problems with the union, a school may make it voluntary BUT offer a grading service as a powerful incentive.

So a college or high school can offer to grade a certain percentage of a teacher's papers, dependent upon the number of hours the instructor tutor's at the center. The more hours the instructor tutors at the center the higher the percentage of paper's the school grades.

Since most textbooks have complete solution manuals, it is much easier to find qualified graders than it is to find qualified tutors. Also, it is much easier to replace graders than it is to replace tutors, and at a lower cost. Furthermore the effect of a "bad" grader is far less damaging than the effect of a "bad" tutor.

The second issue is attendance, what good is staffing a tutoring center with qualified people IF the students who most need it don't use it? First a school will constantly advertise the tutoring center, if a student needs help - he/she will know where to go. Instructors can offer extra credit to students who do attend the tutoring center and finally a school may make it a requirement for students to go to the tutoring center, with the option to not attend for high performing students. Before a student decides to take a class, they must be absolutely sure they have sufficient time to take the class AND attend the tutoring center - this can be reinforced when they sign up for classes - do you have sufficient time outside of work to attend the tutoring center??

We can modify this even further, before a student signs up for a class a software program will analyze their grades to determine if tutoring should be a requirement. If the student is high performing then no tutoring requirement will be necessary, if the student is average performing then he/she will need to attend only a certain number of hours, if the student is low performing then he/she will need to attend even more hours.

This can also be made real time, if the software system detects that the student's grades in a class fall below a certain level then tutoring will be mandatory until his/her grades go above the level.

There may be details to work out, but the main ideas have been proven to be effective.

John G.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Teaching Pt. 19

Crowd control in schools is also critical, given that some schools in some neighborhoods, may have many students and may have many incidents. So what is needed are organizational methods that reduce or eliminate student incidents. The following ideas may help:

First we must look at student density and student flux. Student flux is defined as the number of students passing through a cross section of one part of the school hall per min. (similar to electromagnetic flux.) We must do a study of the incidents that have occurred in the past. Look at the students involved, student density, student flux, look at the locations where most incidents take place, look at what time most incidents take place, look at what days most incidents take place.

Now once we have all the statistics we can begin organizing the school in a manner to reduce the number of incidents. The basic approach comes from operations research, our goal is to reduce the probability that student incidents will occur.

Each student may be assigned an incident probability number that measures the likelihood that the student may cause trouble. This number can be calculated based on grades, attendance, and previous behavior of the student. This number may change as the student's grades and behavior record changes.

Obviously if the student density is down to 1 student per 20 sq meters, and the student flux is up to 10 students/min no incidents will occur, but of course it is impractical. If the student density is at a maximum and the student flux is at a minimum then incidents will have a high probability of occurring. So our goal is to find the optimum student density and optimum student flux to reduce the probability of incidents occurring while at the same time being practical.

One way to reduce student incidents, student density, and increase student flux, is to stage the school day. For example a certain group of students will start school at 8am, another group will start school at 9am, yet another at 10 am, and so on. Instead of hour intervals it can separated by half hour intervals, this can decided by operations research. Students who have a record of starting incidents can be separated in time and space, so they will never be in the same place at the same time. Groups of friends who have a record of starting incidents can be separated so as to reduce the likelihood that they will be involved in incidents.

Another idea is to place monitors in strategic locations throughout the school during the school day, this can be decided by operations research as well. Operations research can also decide if it is better have the monitor stand in one place, or is it better for the monitor to walk in a circuit around the halls. What is the minimum number of monitors, is there a monitor density or flux we should aim for?

Operations research can decide which students should go in which classrooms and at what time so as to reduce the probability that incidents both in class and in the halls may be minimized. What operations resarch can also decide is the optimum mix of students with a low incident probability number and students with a higher than average incident probability number so as to reduce the overall incident probability inside the classrooms.

Classroom seating can also be studied, students with high incident probability number will always sit in the front, the rest of the students can choose their own seating.

To further decrease the probability of student incidents motivational material can be played on the PA system throughout the day, everyday so as to continuously deliver positive messages to the minds of the students.

Another advantage of school staging is that minimizing the probability of in-school incidents also may have an effect on after-school incidents. Since students will not have the opportunity to follow up on incidents started in school.

Another idea separate from school organization is school path safety. School districts can statistically analyze how the students get to school, which streets, bus lines, subways, do most of the students use most of the time. So in the morning and afternoon these streets, bus lines, and subways can be monitored so as to ensure student safety. An advantage of this system is that students can more or less be guaranteed safety if they use the streets, bus lines, and subways that are more heavily monitored.

We can construct models so as to simulate student behavior both inside and outside of class, these models will be field tested so as to correspond with a high degree of accuracy with actual student behavior.

Once all or nearly all students are at school, the school is organized to minimize student incidents, motivational material is played continuously, and the students are made to study then real learning can take place.

John G.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Teaching Pt. 18

Once, all or nearly all the students are in school, now we can start working on them. It is not enough to attend school, the student must actively partake in the educational process. One key part of the educational process is studying. The following is best for use in middle schools and high schools.

It is difficult to learn and master complex material in 45-60 min, most students can learn only so much in a given amount of time. So it is imperative that students be taught how to study and use the study techniques everyday.

To ensure that students do study, schools may consider making studying a part of the school day. For example, after the student's last class, each student will be sent to another classroom to study and do homework - correctly.

Both the classroom and the students in the classroom will be randomized. During the last class of the day the instructor will receive a list indicating where each student in class will be studying. For example student 1 - Room bbb, student 2 - Room cbb, student 3 - Room aaa and so on. The choice will be made by computer using a random number generator. It may be helpful if boys and girls are sent to separate study rooms, this can be programmed into the computer.

It may also be helpful if instead of programming where each student goes, to choose a specific room and choose at random which students will go in the room. It may be helpful if the program has options to keep certain groups of students apart, for example groups of friends that have a record of causing trouble. During the study session cell phones, gaming systems, ipods, or any other source of distraction will be placed in a safe box to ensure the student focus on one thing and one thing only - studying.

In addition it may be helpful if motivational material is played over the PA system, during the study session, to encourage students to achieve. The volume must be low enough to make sure it does not disturb the students while studying.

John G.