Teacher Academy Visit

A highlight of the year is when Mike Neri invites me to his Teacher Academy Class to talk about technology and education. Given the fact that these kidoes won’t be in the classroom for a 1/2 a decade of so, the talk is usually a bit of exercise in predicting the future and identifying trends – subjects I always find fun. Today I’ll be going over a slightly tweaked version of my 2014 OETC presentation: Will I be Replaced by a Robot.

The Gist

I want explore how the digital revolution and the growth in the capacity of machines to perform larger cognitive tasks will affect the teaching profession. A fear frequently expressed by technology reluctant educators is that technology may displace many of their functions as a teacher. We’ll examine the validity of this fear by viewing past and current trends in technology and how these trends have impacted various careers. We will raise questions about future job opportunities for students as well.

The Presentation

References

Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy

By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee: A fairly concise book that explores the relationship between technological advances and its impact on society, particularly the job market.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

Follow up to Race Against the Machine.

Welcome Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?

A variation of the Brynjolfsson and McAfee arguments. Excellent demonstration of Moore’s Law. Also does a pretty solid job of explaining income growth tied to capital.

Coming to an Office Near You

Economist article outlining the impact of technological advances on all jobs.

Fun Follow Up

Homework: A Father’s Thoughts

“Your child will have 40 minutes of homework each night. Plus 20 to 30 minutes of reading.”

Random Unexplained Teacher Rule

Grade Level X 10 = Daily minutes of homework to assign students.

One of the many hats I wear is that of father to three beautiful, challenging, and particular Colombian children. As they age, I find myself wearing both my teacher hat and dad hat at the same time.  I get these weird moments of “work me” arguing against “dad me” (political activist me does a pretty good job keeping quiet – although Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee frustrated me enough to write letters to legislators). A certain amount of cognitive dissonance goes with any job.

My kids follow a grade level train (currently we’re 4th, 3rd, and 2nd grades) at a decent public school district. Parent/teacher night always is a bit surreal as I find myself viewing how teachers translate education policy into nuts and bolts, day to day classroom experiences. To their credit, their teachers do a pretty good job of keeping educationese to a minimum. Still there’s enough jargon thrown into the orientation (PARCC, Growth Measures, MAP testing, Common Core) to make school sound foreign to parents. Most parents roll with it and then ask important questions like can our kids bring cupcakes to school for their birthday?

Up to this point, my kids received a homework packet on Thursday that would be due on Thursday of the next week. The packet featured a smorgasborg of worksheets – math problems and reading problems – plus a reading log for the week. From a practical perspective we loved the packet. Our girls are involved in gymnastics, which runs a good 3 hours three nights out of the week. By the time they get home, eat, and clean up they’re not very functional when it comes to academics. Reading before bed helps them wind down and check off a school obligation.

This year is different. My oldest is in 4th grade where they’re introducing elements of secondary school to the students. This means changing classes. More testing. And more homework. Specifically, 40 minutes a night plus reading.

In the education world, opinions about homework are sorta like opinions about politics. You’re going to quickly piss someone off and make a few enemies. As a teacher, I’ve always been a bit sanguine about homework because I really never wanted to step on any mines. But as a father, I find myself reflecting more on this issue because I’m forced to exam it from a different perspective.

What is the point of homework?

It’s always best to start with they “why”? Why do any type of educational activity? Educators are tasked to help their students grow academically (and some would say morally and in civics as well, but that’s a whole different post). So a more specific question to ask would be “does homework result in academic growth?”

At best, studies say the answer to that question is ambiguous.

Most say there’s no effect on growth for younger students (elementary levels).

Among the many notes of caution with these studies, one stand out. Reading has a positive affect on academic growth. In other words, if the homework assigned is reading, that’s a good investment of time for students.

Other studies have shown homework that reinforces what was learned that day/week may have some positive correlation.

The other point(s) of homework

I suspect a lot of homework is given because it’s “how we’ve always done it.” When I taught in the classroom I’d hand out the default worksheet as homework. For the most part, that’s what my kids receive as well. They’re piddly, not very rigorous, but hey, at least it’s a grade. Or maybe not, given that quite a few teachers don’t give a grade for homework (or only a participation grade).

Or maybe it’s the Calvin and Hobbs Dad Theory: Homework Builds Character.

character

Whatever the reasons for homework, I’ve yet to work in a district that doesn’t face a very high “non-compliance” rate of homework completion. Typically this has required (informally or formally) grading policies that point out the seemingly obvious point that “incomplete homework cannot result in class failure.”

It’s still an expectation

My kids’ weekday is packed. They may have an hour of free time in the evening. They also have free time when I drop them off to extended care in the morning (about an hour). We, like many families, juggle work, community, church, team sports, and dozen of other random events. Homework is part of the juggle, and my wife and I certainly expect our children to learn to work with the wide variety of teacher expectations.

But we’re also big believers in balance. Sometimes that means skipping a gymnastic’s meet. Sometimes that means letting them put their pencils down and sending them outside to play (which, I suspect, leads to an equal amount of cognitive growth).

When Binary Decisions Are Elusive

Decision processes intrigue me especially as I’ve moved into positions that require far more complex decisions on issues that have larger impact. There is the self-reflective part of the process – why do I make the decisions I make – that I’m examining through the most excellent book Thinking, Fast and Slow (and if ever there was a book to make us question why we make decisions, that’s the book).

There’s also the process of decision making in a group context. Decision making in a group context can be hard. When anything is hard, I always try use frameworks. Sometimes frameworks need tweaks. Let me explain.

Yes / No Required?

New to the job, I’ve always tried to take complex issues and break them into “if/then” and “yes/no” decision branches. The idea is to force some kind of decision so that progress (or something) can result. I can then plan accordingly.

Say the district has a one time, unique chance to order a couple of dozen Flux Capacitors for special instructional buses that would allow us carve out a few extra months of school for our students (this would solve the unfortunate consequences of the gazillion snow days we’ve had this year).

The decision process would look something like this:

Decision Making 1a

And indeed, sometimes it works this way. You go with yes or you go with no – but either way you move in a particular direction. The job then becomes dealing with the good (or bad) outcomes of the decision.

But it’s Never Truly Binary

There is always a third branch in a yes/no question.

Copy of Decision Making 1a

This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, not answering the question spawns complexities. One of the more enlightening things I’ve learned is that this is sometimes a legitimate and prudent course of action. This issue is that I haven’t learned to decipher well when this is prudent. It’s also quite maddening for me because I tend to be action oriented. In my inexperience, I’m left wondering questions like:

  • Crap, what political implications did I miss? (And if I missed them – is a “not answer” a polite way to communicate to stop asking the question?)
  • Did I not explain the if/then scenarios clearly enough?
  • Is not making a decision protecting the group and/or district in some way?
  • Did I totally botch the timing of asking the question?

The flowchart is a bit miss-leading because not answering questions produces outcomes as well (sometimes outcomes that are remarkably similar to the yes/no outcomes). To me though – a not answer seems to result in less controllable outcomes. And that can be scary. Even when it may be the best course of action.