A Puzzle A Day…

This article is one I’ve had stashed for awhile. It’s inspired me to post a giant logic puzzle on the bulletin board of my classroom. Check out what it says:

This and other recent research suggest that the appeal of puzzles goes far deeper than the dopamine-reward rush of finding a solution. The very idea of doing a crossword or a Sudoku puzzle typically shifts the brain into an open, playful state that is itself a pleasing escape, captivating to people as different as Bill Clinton, a puzzle addict, and the famous amnesiac Henry Molaison, or H.M., whose damaged brain craved crosswords.

And that escape is all the more tantalizing for being incomplete. Unlike the cryptic social and professional mazes of real life, puzzles are reassuringly soluble; but like any serious problem, they require more than mere intellect to crack.

“It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”

“It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,” Dr. Danesi said. “And once you have, you can sit back and say, ‘Hey, the rest of my life may be a disaster, but at least I have a solution.’ ”

Now if I can only get around to actually printing it out and putting it up…

New Release of Professional Development Policy Research

A team of researchers from Stanford and the National Staff Development Council released their Phase III report of their multi-year research project into the policies and practices that make for effective educational professional development.

All three reports are available at Learning Forward’s Web site (click HERE), along with a description of the project’s aims, scope and findings.

The reports are described like this:

Phase I: In 2009, NSDC released Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad. This report examines what research has revealed about professional learning that improves teachers’ practice and student learning. The report describes the availability of such opportunities in the United States and high-achieving nations around the world, which have been making substantial and sustained investments in professional learning for teachers over the last two decades. Funding for the multiyear research effort comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MetLife Foundation, NSDC, and The Wallace Foundation.

Phase II: The report from Phase II of this multiyear research initiative examines the status of professional learning in the United States. The findings indicate that the nation is making some progress in providing increased support and mentoring for new teachers. However, the study also reveals that teachers’ opportunities for the kind of ongoing, intensive professional learning that research shows has a substantial impact on student learning are decreasing.

Researchers examined 2008 data from the federal government’s Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and other sources. The report also includes assessments of each state on the quality of their professional development across 11 indicators that comprise a newly developed Professional Development Access Index.

Phase III: Policy shapes practices, and the increasingly important realm of professional development is no exception. To identify effective professional development policies and strategies, the Stanford University research team examined the policy frameworks supporting high levels of professional development activity in four states in Phase III of the multiyear research study.

The states—Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont—were identified as “professionally active” based on evidence of high levels of teacher participation in professional development in the 2008 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, and the teacher surveys associated with the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); a reputation in the literature for enacting reforms that are consistent with the research based on “effective” professional development; and improvements in student achievement as measured in the 2009 NAEP.

Your local Faculty Council has been contacted by a couple of members of the Staff and Professional Development Task Force (they want to get some information from HW faculty), and we’re working out the details of what will happen and how. In the meantime, it might be valuable to take a gander at these reports (at least the first one, which gives an overview of research on PD) to fertilize your own thinking on the subject.

Two on Research Papers

One from the NY Times about The Concord Review and the “Dying Art of the Research Paper” in secondary education.

The other is from The Chronicle about a “Citation Game” that doesn’t really seem to be about Citations and isn’t quite as simple to plug into a class as I originally hoped, but is still interesting and potentially useful. Not as useful as scheduling a class session with one of our awesome librarians, but maybe useful as a supplement.

Anyway, they’re both worth a few minutes of checking out, I’d say.

Science and Human Nature

Michal Eskayo sent this one to me as a recommendation for the Lounge and/or people teaching philosophy or psychology related classes. She just finished reading it in The New Yorker, and it looks quite good.

Help comes from the strangest places. We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind. Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows. They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say. Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.

While I was there, I saw this one on scientific method, pharmaceuticals, and the steady waning of second generation antipsychotic drugs’ therapeutic effects (as established in laboratory studies during the research and approval processes). It looks really interesting, too.
h/t to Michal (2x)

New Research Says Tests Facilitate Learning

This makes sense to me, but it’s still somewhat surprising.

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

If you want to read the study itself, you can go here.

Of Colleges and Cost Effective Solutions

I thought this article from Inside Higher Ed was fascinating when I read it back in December, but I saved it because I didn’t want it to get buried in Finals and grading and the rest. I haven’t made my way to the “working paper” that is mentioned here, yet, but I hope someone does (see the link at the bottom of the post).

Here are a few teasers from it:

The paper lays out in stark detail one of higher education’s most vexing questions: How is it that a nation can spend more than it did 20 years ago on postsecondary education, admit more students to college, and still have stagnant if not worsening completion rates? Perhaps, the authors argue, it’s because colleges invest in what sounds good instead of figuring out what works well…

And later:

“They don’t really know which of the programs are working and which are not working,” said Douglas N. Harris, a co-author of the report and associate professor of educational policy studies.”

And just a bit more:

So what does improve degree completion productivity? Apart from using more full-time faculty, there’s evidence to suggest that something as basic as picking up a phone and calling students who’ve missed class makes a big difference at relatively little cost, the paper notes. The researchers drew upon data from Des Moines Area Community College, which created a call center and found that the persistence rates were between 2 and 15 percentage points higher among students with whom they had conversations than among those whom were only left voicemails. While the data are limited, the college’s experiment suggests outreach and student contact matter, the paper notes.

Because call centers are relatively inexpensive, a college could produce just a few additional degrees with that method and still be more cost-effective than a popular program like Upward Bound, which supports low-income students but comes at a high cost, the report finds.

Read the rest or go right to the paper.

The Best Thing I Read Over Break

I’d say it was this article about what kinds of things people are finding out (and thinking about) at the intersection of Physics, Statistics, Urban Planning, Sociology, Economics, and Political Philosophy.

It’s longish, but it is AWESOME. To wit:

They looked at a dizzying array of variables, from the total amount of electrical wire in Frankfurt to the number of college graduates in Boise. They amassed stats on gas stations and personal income, flu outbreaks and homicides, coffee shops and the walking speed of pedestrians.After two years of analysis, West and Bettencourt discovered that all of these urban variables could be described by a few exquisitely simple equations. For example, if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system. These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people “agglomerate,” cramming themselves into apartment buildings and subway cars. It doesn’t matter if the place is Manhattan or Manhattan, Kan.: the urban patterns remain the same. West isn’t shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. “What we found are the constants that describe every city,” he says. “I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don’t know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.” After a pause, as if reflecting on his hyperbole, West adds: “Look, we all know that every city is unique. That’s all we talk about when we talk about cities, those things that make New York different from L.A., or Tokyo different from Albuquerque. But focusing on those differences misses the point. Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We’ve found the what.”

And further on, right at the end, in fact, there’s this gem:

For West, the impermanence of the corporation illuminates the real strength of the metropolis. Unlike companies, which are managed in a top-down fashion by a team of highly paid executives, cities are unruly places, largely immune to the desires of politicians and planners. “Think about how powerless a mayor is,” West says. “They can’t tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.”

Do yourself a favor and read the rest.


One Answer?

Sitting in the focus group the other day, there was only one question that, if posed to me, I could have answered immediately and without hesitation. If asked what makes the biggest difference for student success, I would have said “Individual attention” without missing a beat.

At the time, I would have had no data or research to support my answer–nothing except anecdotal evidence–but that was before I read this article about a variety of Community College initiatives that all share the goal of increasing individual attention to students, particularly those at risk for various reasons:

It doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary. But leaders of Howard Community College have found that students who meet regularly with volunteer “coaches” are significantly more likely to continue their studies than classmates who do not.

Later in the same piece:

The program is designed as a forum for students to share the worries – ill relatives, punishing hours, unpaid bills – that prompt so many to abandon their studies. Coaches may offer empathy, encouragement and advice. Mostly, though, they are there to listen.

“Nobody’s judging them,” Heffer said. “We are pulling for the student, but nobody has an agenda for them.”

Four years of data show weekly coaching is especially useful to “developmental” students, those who are not yet ready for college-level work. Dropout rates are especially high for those students. But semester-to-semester retention has ranged from 86 percent to 96 percent for developmental students in the Step UP program, compared with about 75 percent for those who were not coached. The program has boosted GPAs as well.

Check out the rest here.

End of Assessment Week

Thanks to everyone who made Assessment Week so successful. Upwards of 800 students took the Social Science Assessment, designed by HWC faculty, and with lots of help from committee members and computer lab staff and volunteering faculty and willing, volunteer students and the tremendous leadership (and sacrifice) of Michael Heathfield (he practically lived in the computer lab this week), this semester’s Assessment Week was a tremendous success.

And just in case you’re wondering what Assessment Week is all about and why it matters, I thought I’d throw this piece from the Chronicle out to you.

UMBC specializes in the task that every parent, pundit, and lawmaker in America most wants universities to accomplish: teaching young people to become great scientists and engineers. It may already be better at this than the Ivies and Research I universities that everyone knows.

But without reliable, public assessment information to prove that to the world, UMBC has few ways of elevating its standing to a level that matches the quality of its academic work. Right now, universities’ reputations rest on wealth, fame, and selectivity. UMBC can’t hit up rich alumni for giant donations because it hasn’t existed long enough for many of its alumni to get rich. Starting a big-time sports program is a bad bet, as the scandal-plagued basketball program at Binghamton University, a fellow America East Conference member, shows. If UMBC becomes too selective, it risks sacrificing diversity and its obligations as a public institution. And it will be hard for whoever follows Hrabowski to match his particular talents.

Without a good measuring stick, great public universities can’t prove their greatness.

Thanks to all who contributed toward our efforts to both improve student learning and measure our success at helping students learn.

Veteran’s Day Special–Research on Students Who Have Served

The National Survey of Student Engagement was released a week or so ago, and along with the general report, they included some special research on returning vets.

Despite the fact that they spend as much time studying as their non-veteran peers, veterans do not “participate equally in other forms of engagement,” even when the surveyors statistically control for certain demographic traits and institutional characteristics. For instance, freshman and senior veterans reported that they are “less engaged with faculty” and perceive “less campus support” than non-veterans. Still, there are no statistically significant differences between veterans and non-veterans in their levels of “overall satisfaction.”

“This suggests that veterans have some distinctive needs and that colleges need to make an effort to meet them,” Alexander C. McCormick, survey director and professor at Indiana University School of Education, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

I’ve written about vets before (click on the link for a few great articles about our former soldier students and their challenges in adjusting to the classrooms), and we’ve certainly had a steady increase at HWC over the last three years at least. I know that Malcolm X has (or had, anyway) a special office and staff member dedicated to Veteran’s needs. I was told at the DWFDW presentation that we had one, too, but I still don’t know who it is, and I take responsibility for that. I suppose I haven’t been in too much of a hurry because the vets I’ve taught have been consistently among my most dedicated and hardest working students, and so, generally, among my most successful class participants. Or so I thought.

Sometime next week the Community College Survey of Student Engagement comes out; I wonder if they’ll have Vets data, too. When it comes out, we’ll definitely be posting it.

Chronicle Day: On Completion and Regionality

So, earlier this week, I posted a bunch of stuff from Inside Higher Ed. Today, it’s the Chronicle of Higher Education’s day in the sun (at least until news trickles back from this morning’s Board meeting–which, hopefully, you will be attending if you don’t have classes to teach/attend).

This first one is about a pair of papers about steps that may be taken to improve completion rates. Check it out here.

The federal government should get more involved in the country’s degree-completion agenda by creating policies that would allow easier transfer of students’ prior credits and learning experiences, according to scholars who spoke at a forum on Thursday about improving educational attainment.

New federal policies that would focus on improving education in the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan regions that cross state boundaries could also increase the number of people with college degrees, the scholars said. One in five Americans live in those regions, and one-quarter of their residents are under the age of 18.

The ideas were presented during a forum, held by the Center for American Progress, that focused on examining the stronger role that the federal government could play in improving degree-completion rates.

I know that this might not be the week to talk out loud about an “expanded Federal role” in anything, but the targets are federal ones, so the assistance maybe ought to be, too.

Think, Know, Prove–Union Survey

As you may recall, way back in August at DWFDW, Perry Buckley told us that he’d have a survey for members to get some input on their concerns and campus climates and so forth. He said it would be out by November 1st and wrote himself a note. I think he might have lost the note. My point is not to say, “Liar, liar” or anything like that–he has a gigantic job and things are probably hot all over, but they’ve been particularly strange at CCC. I forget stuff all the time that I say I’ll do, and I only have 180 students, not thousands of members.

Anyhow, I heard that one of our enterprising young faculty members took the initiative to follow up on the survey for the rest of us, and Perry responded saying that the survey would go out with the Winter edition of the Union Newsletter (The Voice)–not the one that went out this week, but the one that goes out in December. He also asked her what questions she’d like to have on it. And so for today’s thinker, I pose the question to y’all. If you were designing the survey for the Union to send to its members (and, in truth, you are), what questions would you ask on it?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?