above: the statues of the Four Reformers from the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, John Knox. Did you know that even though Martin Luther started the Reformation in Germany, that he was persecuted in Germany and his ideas did not receive acceptance there? His ideas only took hold and spread out to the rest of the world from Switzerland, where his ideas were accepted and protected. The epicentre for the spread of the Reformation was actually Switzerland, and not Germany. There is a great Reformation Museum in Geneva. Our family has visited the churches where Calvin and Zwingli (the great Swiss reformer) preached in Zurich, Lausanne, and Geneva. Our family has loved our time living in Switzerland (9 years at this point). What an amazing privilege and blessing we were given, to live and work here as expats.
MIA a.ka. Missing in Action
It’s been over a year since I’ve posted a blogpost. For those of you who know me, you will recognize how unusual this is for me. I started Coetail (and this blog) in February 2013 and I’ve been posting at least twice a month, if not more, until 2016.
2016. Ah 2016. This is the year that will go down in history as when the world-order shifted, never to be the same again. The two standard-bearers for the world for liberty, democracy, rule of law, justice, character, integrity decided to commit an incredible act of self-harm. I’m talking about #Brexit and the “abomination that causes desolation” sitting in the American White House. The other nations, upon witnessing this, decided that they too had no reason to rise above their base-desires and to aspire to something greater (what the UK and the USA used to represent and what other nations saw as the bench-mark they wanted to aim for) and the world-order dutifully imploded, never to be put back together again, quite the same (echoes of Humpty-Dumpty here).
Anyways, this is an Educational Blog, not a political or spiritual blog. So, I won’t get any further in it. This is just an attempt at an explanation for why I’ve been missing in action for so long (blogging little and tweeting little). I feel grief (Little tears prick at my eyes, even now as I write). And when an introvert like me feels grief, one turns inward and hides away. I mean, I just couldn’t find the motivation or the inspiration to write about educational issues or EdTech ideas when Rome is burning at one’s feet. I apologize to all my teaching friends on Coetail, twitter etc. for disappearing after November 2016. I didn’t even stop to explain. I just left. I hope this little note here can be my explanation. Rather late, but better late than never. 😀 I hope you know that it was #nothingpersonal
Finishing SPF 689-Research Methods
That being said, I finished SPF 689 “Educational Research Methods” with SUNY (State University of New York) this past May 2018. It’s my second last course before I finish my Masters (M.S.). In SPF 689, I set up my final Masters research project. My last course (EDU 690) will be actually to conduct the Masters research and to write up the results in a paper. My hope is to eventually publish the paper in a research journal. This is not a requirement for my Masters but Dr. Shively (prof) is willing to work with students that want to publish to get them published. That would be SO amazing. I SO want to do this, but it depends on whether I will be able to conduct the Masters research that I envision in my mind. We will see.
What is Research?
I’ve been looking forward to SPF 689 (Research Methods) for such a long time! I’ve always been curious about how scientists conduct their research. I remember when I was an university undergrad student studying for my B.Ed/B.A. that I took an EdPsych class. During the class, we learned about factors that determine whether testing, research is rigorous or not.
There are two factors (amongst others) that are important to consider when a school teacher administers any sort of test. They are 1. Validity and 2. Reliability
I once participated in a twitter chat on #pypchat where Kath Murdoch (guru of PYP Inquiry Pedagogy) was saying that all PYP teachers need to consider themselves as scientists. I took exception to that idea. I felt it was hugely disrespectful to real scientists to label ourselves as scientists. This is because the average PYP teacher has no training in the rigours needed to conduct scientific inquiry: 1. how to set up valid research 2. how to set up reliable research 3. how to discern if the testing tools (i.e. exams) you create or choose are valid or reliable 4. how to test for validity and reliability in any conclusions you draw.
Yes, in the IB PYP (IB Primary Years Program) we are conducting inquiry, but I would never assume that the inquiries that PYP Teachers and PYP Classrooms are under-taking are, in any way, turn us into “real” scientists. How disingenuous to say it could be that simple to be a scientist! Whatever findings we find, need to be taken with a “grain of salt”. And isn’t that what the IBPYP Learner Profile attribute, “Critical Thinkers”, is about? It’s about not swallowing up any old conclusion or generalization. But to put it all in context through critical thought.
For example, as IBPYP classroom teachers, there is emphasis on Formative Assessment. Formative Assessments are assessments of what children already know, before a unit is started. They are useful to help teachers find a starting point in their teaching units. They are also helpful for differentiating for students who are much further ahead or much further behind than the rest of the class. However, in practise, the “formative assessments” I’ve seen (and sadly used) is usually the classroom teacher (not always a math specialist) lifting a page from a math text, photocopying it, and then administering it as a test to students. Because of the bit of my undergrad studies about educational testing, I knew to take any findings I got with a STRONG “grain of salt”. Lifting a page from a textbook, even creating an original test by oneself is NO guarantee that the test has any validity or reliability, and tells us a great deal about the child’s abilities that are purportedly being tested.
Validity, as an indicator of a “good” test
Validity means that the test is testing exactly and only what the examiner is testing. One factor that works against validity of math tests is reading comprehension. If the student is answering a math word problem, but doesn’t really understand the question (i.e. English isn’t the child’s native language, child has poor reading skills, language of the question was poorly written), then the fact that the child got the answer correct OR incorrect means nothing for their math’s abilities. The question wasn’t testing their maths. It was testing their reading comprehension. So, in this instance, the findings for that math question lacked validity. That test question is “bad science”.
Reliability, as an indicator of a “good” test
Findings that we garner from research, testing etc., are more rigourous if they have reliability. If we administer the test over time under the same conditions, do we get the same results? If a test gets one set of conclusions on one day, but then another different set on another day, then that test has poor reliability and it means that this test is inherently weak and we shouldn’t draw any conclusions from that test. The test should be discarded.
So, I had this bit of training in my B.Ed/B.A. It wasn’t much but much more than teachers who only have a teaching-certificate but not a teaching degree, as I do. But it was enough to make me conservative about all these “formative assessments” that teachers LOVE to administer. They must all be taken with a “grain of salt”. So, I was quite astounded when the #PYPChat told us that PYP teachers are scientists. in fact, Kath Murdoch went as far as to conclude the #PYPChat by saying that you can’t be a PYP Teacher (an teacher of Inquiry) unless you consider yourself a scientists. Well, lots of meaning is lost on twitter, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt and take what she said with a grain of salt. Maybe I misunderstood her. I’m a good teacher of Inquiry but I would never assume that I’m a scientist, who is university-trained in creating experiments, creating testing tools, conducting research, analyzing findings and summarizing them without bias.
Regardless, I would hazard to guess that most teachers with only undergrad training have little training in test-making and little understanding about what makes research or testing rigorous and how that should contextualize how they approach Formative Assessment in their classrooms. I’m surprised that this is not a significant aspect of teacher training in undergrad. It wasn’t until I started my Masters studies that I was forced to take a whole course in the subject. Since testing and assessment form such a large part of a school teacher’s job, it seems absurd to me that the study of Research & Testing Methods is left to graduate-level studies!
You wouldn’t think a teacher would online bully, would you?
So, it was an “interesting” #PYPChat because it’s difficult to convey one’s points when one is limited to 140 characters. What made it even more “interesting” is that after the twitter chat was over, one of the teachers (a PYP math teacher) who disagreed with me created a webpage to bully and insult me over my views. She sent it to me publically via a link on twitter. She deleted the webpage a little later, but I had already screenshot it. I blogged about that bullying experience here on my blog. You can find my blogpost that I wrote in this blog and the screenshot of what she said to me, if you google hard enough. Needless to say, I never went back to #PYPChat on twitter!
What makes something a real scientific inquiry?
So, I really enjoyed my SPF 689 Research Methods course. Finally, I was able to look in-depth at the tools, instruments, methods that real scientists use. We looked at how to set up our Research Projects and what tools we can use to collect our findings. We looked at ways to prevent bias and how all teachers need to cognizant about this very real factor when assessing our students. My way of negating bias has always been to take all my findings from any assessments, whether Formative or Summative (Summative is testing after the unit is over), with a “grain of salt”. I’ve used that metaphor a number of times. What do I mean by that? I mean not forgetting that I could be absolutely wrong about my conclusions and that I should be open to other evidence collected in other ways, that say something differently. (Remember how Einstein’s math teachers thought he was a dummy at math?)
I don’t know if I was able to convey this important piece of advice to the #PYPChat that day, but that was the gist of what I was trying to get across, when I disagreed with the idea that PYP teachers are also scientists.
None of what I’ve said applies to standardized tests that have been tested and proven over-time, to be valid and reliable with a large population. These tests usually come from educational bodies (full of ‘real scientists’) and usually need to be bought by a school in order to be used i.e. PISA, ISA, IQ Tests, SATs, ACTs etc.–even the IBDP Final Exams. Teachers usually need to seek parent’s permission to administer these tests, as the findings can have huge impact on students’ futures because the entire world respects the validity and reliability of their conclusions. I’m not too sure if any test that regular school teachers make on a weekly basis could command such respect.
SPF 689 Research Methods EDU 690 Masters Project
So, it was a very valuable course for me. I feel equipped to conduct research in my classrooms now, when I didn’t feel at all equipped, before. I will continue to view all conclusions drawn from school tests “with a grain of salt” but I will be better at test-creation and data evaluation, after I finish my Masters. If I do publish my paper, I’ll be here first to post a link to it! I imagine that in the EDU 690 “Master’s Project”, I will be looking at how to make my own specific assessment tools valid and reliable, according to my research intentions.
I don’t know if I will ever get back to blogging here every 2 weeks, like I used to. I really ought to start a blog about our current political and social landscape, through my lens of being a Christian, because this is what has been pressing on my spirit and is screaming out to be released for the last two years (sort of like a mother labouring and trying to birth out a baby but everything is stuck) =) I love writing and I have a need to write, so a blog like that would be a perfect outlet for my angst. At the same time, I doubt very much that I will start a blog like that. There is already too much arguing online; I don’t want to contribute more. Instead, I will pray and do what I can to lead children to discern between truth and fake-science, one day at a time.
I will pop back here once in a while to write, but definitely not every other week, like before. I’ll keep you posted about the Research Project when I start the under-taking of it.
My Research Project Proposal
At this moment, I’m hoping that my research project will study
whether and to what extent Sonic-Pi gives students with little or no musical-note reading ability access to composition activities in the music classroom
Sonic-Pi allows students to compose and perform abstract music through coding in the Ruby computer language (Ruby is a “real” coding language.) It is a free software that turns your computer (Mac, Raspberry Pi, Window) into a music synthesizer. It can create in all musical genres from classical to electric dance music (EDM). Listen to Sonic-Pi play “Daft Punk”. (The creator of Sonic-Pi, Dr Aaron Sam, plays EDM in nightclubs!)
Sonic-Pi was created by Dr Aaron Sam at the Cambridge University, UK to support the new computing curriculum that came out in the UK a few years ago. Children in the UK, from the ages of 5 to 14 are required to learn computer science (computer programming) as a subject. Sonic-Pi was invented to be a tool for students to meet their computing curriculum requirements while learning another subject. The idea is that cross-integration (see my magazine article about this) between subjects raises the level of critical thinking and increases the depth of learning. (Plus, it’s just plain more fun!) In this case, the integration is between the subjects of Music and Computer Sciences. Anyways, that’s what I’m hoping to look at in my Master’s graduation project. Wish me luck!
Interestingly enough, 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Reformation shook the foundations of the world and nothing was the same again. I wonder if we’re at another watershed moment in history? The architecture of the world is being reshaped. What are you doing to make sure it’s being reshaped in the way that will make the world somewhere your kids and grandkids will want to live in?
What can teachers do to combat #FakeNews #FakeScience?