Mountain View Voice

News - July 29, 2011

Teaching the teachers

MV Whisman hires consultants to improve math and science scores

by Nick Veronin

In an effort to improve math and science scores, the Mountain View Whisman School District has begun contracting with an education research company to teach teachers how to teach better and more efficiently.

With the help of a $1 million grant from Google, the district has hired DataWORKS to train teachers on Explicit Direct Instruction, a methodical teaching system designed to engage students while at the same time allowing teachers to quickly identify those students who are having trouble with the material. The idea is to address confusion the moment it arises.

"Instead of waiting for the quiz on Friday, we're finding out right then and there," said Cynthia Kampf, a consultant for DataWORKS.

Kampf, a former teacher who holds a doctorate in education, recently supervised 16 days of EDI training held at Castro Elementary. During the training, Kampf showed teachers how to use Explicit Direct Instruction method for Mountain View Whisman students who had fallen behind in their studies.

All too often, teachers don't realize which of their students are falling behind until it's too late, Kampf said.

"We used to say, 'Practice makes perfect,'" Kampf said. "Now, we say, 'Practice makes permanent.'"

When a teacher fails to recognize that a student doesn't understand a concept early on, that student will either give up on trying or else will continue practicing the wrong way. And "if they practice it wrong, it's going to be in their brains wrong."

The new system uses carrots and sticks — almost literally — to ensure student participation.

The carrots come in the form of whiteboards. In EDI, every student has a whiteboard that they use to answer questions in class. Kampf said that the whiteboards serves as an incentive for the students, who enjoy showing others that they know the answer to the question.

"Kids love to use their hands, too," she said of the whiteboards. "A lot of kids are tactile learners — they have to use their hands to learn."

The also allow teachers to quickly assess who understands the material and who might need individualized help. This more personalized help can be given one-on-one, or in a smaller group. Once the instructor has determined which students can handle doing a set of practice problems on their own, he or she can hand out a worksheet and pull those students aside who have been having trouble and help them.

The sticks in EDI are actual sticks. Teachers write students names on tongue depressors and draw names at random during class. This ensures that every student is accountable for knowing the material.

"One eighth-grade boy told me that the stick system keeps him on his toes," Kampf said, noting that the boy seemed to like knowing he could be called on any minute. "I think people are happier when their brains are engaged. When they have to be ready for every question they are engaged."

The program cost the school district about $350,000 according to Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of Mountain View Whisman. Although Lairon was hesitant to make any definitive statement about the program until more data is available, she said she has been "very impressed" with the DataWORKS system so far.

"This program really holds kids accountable," Lairon said. Furthermore, EDI "holds us more accountable to make sure the kids understand the lesson."

Lairon said that the EDI method reminded her of the training she received when going to school to be a teacher. "It's sort of like the five-step lesson plan, but on steroids," she said. "It's much more systematic."

Kampf agreed with Lairon about the systematic nature of the DataWORKS program, but was also quick to say that EDI is not meant to stifle creativity in the classroom.

"These are resources for teachers to use," she said. "This isn't a script. There is an art to teaching."

Comments

Posted by Ed, a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Jul 31, 2011 at 7:43 pm

There's a lot wrong with this story.

"Teaching the Teachers"

What an insult to those professional and highly qualified teachers working in our schools (even if you think, say, 50% are worthless, the remaining already know how to teach. It's the students that are ill-prepared do to poor parenting.)

"MV Whisman hires consultants to improve math and science scores"

Science is not tested and does not effect API scores. (Does anyone do any research before they write these articles?!?!?) Secondly, it would appear then the district is only interested in raising test scores, and thus, mostly for poor performing students who are no doubt more affected by ethno-socio-economic factors and parent apathy as so far as education is concerned. How do average and above and excelling students gain from this $350,000 be blown through? Or that's right, they get to put up with listening to kids not prepared are capable of answering the question in the first place, again due to low parental involvement among varying socio-economic and ethnic groups.

Indeed the old popsicle stick trick is already in use in many classrooms, as well as individual white boards, so nothing new there. Besides, having a white board in front of students who aren't anywhere near to an answer is hardly going to make a difference. What's he or she going to do next, ask for a lifeline, or a call home or to a friend or a complete stranger a la 'Who wants to be a millionaire'?

"A lot of kids are tactile learners--they have to use their hands to learn." Where to begin with that one? What a load of baloney. They need to condition their brains to learn!

"The program cost the school district about $350,000 according to Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of Mountain View Whisman. Although Lairon was hesitant to make any definitive statement about the program until more data is available."

How many opportunities does this Lairon woman need to get her foot fully into her mouth? Just go shell out another $350,000 on a blind investment and hope it works! Throw more good money after bad.


Posted by JONI GINGRICH, a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I BELEIVE IN EDI AND I BELEIVE IN TEACHING TEACHERS.

I AM SADDENED BY MR. ED'S PREVIOUS COMMENT, AS IT SHOWS ONLY THE MASTERY OF SARCASM. NOT ONE CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTION. TEACHERS ARE CONSTANTLY SPENDING THEIR SCHOOL DISTRICTS TIME WITH 'INSERVICES' AIMED AT IMPROVING TEACHING TECHNIQUES AND BRINGING UP THEIR SCHOOLS TEST SCORES. MANY SCHOOLS MUST DO SO, OR LOSE FUNDING. WHEN SCHOOL DISTRICTS HAD MORE FUNDING IN THE PREVIOUS YEARS, THERE WERE ALSO SUMMER CAMPS FOR TEACHERS THAT TAUGHT NEW WAYS TO GET STUDENTS INVOLVED. THE STUDENTS INVOLVMENT AND INTEREST ARE OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE BECAUSE MANY CHILDREN DO NOT HAVE THE BLESSING OF PARENTS WHO SUPPORT THE AFTER HOURS WORK NECESSARY TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT SCHOOL.

IT IS NOT INSULTING TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW. IT IS INSULTING TO NOT WANT TO LEARN. DATAWORKS IS TRYING TO PUT THE EMPHASIS ON THE CORRECT SYLLABLE. THE FACT THAT IT TOOK A CORPORATE GRANT TO BE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IS WORRYSOME, BUT HOW LUCKY WILL THE KIDS BE IN THIS SCHOOL DISTRICT IF RESULTS CAN BE DOCUMENTED?


Posted by Nicole, a resident of Castro City
on Jan 31, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I am a resident and, except for the tactile learning sentense and blaming the teachers, he had mostly valid points. We're spending 350K to teach well-qualified teachers, buy whiteboards and raise test scores on kids who most likely have low test scores due to the socio-economic issues (food, healthcare) not lack of new-fangled instruction. I am fortunate my kids are in advanced math and don't have to sit through these boring instructions, but I wish Google had given my school cool science kits or organic food instead.


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