Teaching a new way to teach

MV Whisman hires consultants to improve math and science scores

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."


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Posted by Bobbi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Teachers often lack the resources or knowledge to make science and math relevant to kids. If they piqued kids' interest in appropriate style (perhaps like James Burkes' Connections), then kids would see how science and math benefits them now, and in the future, and would be more interested.

Memorizing facts is not exciting for anyone.

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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I agree with Bobbi, The most memorable experiences for me from school were the science films like Disney's "Our Friend The Atom" an awesome story of Atomic Physics only Disney animators could create, The Bell Telephone science films, and Jacob Bronowski's "Ascent of Man" which should be required viewing for all Math and Science students. I think it's a common theme that many math and science majors were influenced by NASA and Science Fiction films and books.

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Posted by Ed
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm

"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.

Like this comment
Posted by Alison
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm

To Ed from Rex Manor Neighborhood:
As a Teacher myself, I can tell you that kids learn best when they see, hear and do whatever they are trying to learn.

In the case of this article that would be the fact of seeing the teacher go over a problem and hear them talk about while possibly writing on their own white boards to physically follow along with the teacher and get the answer.

With the tongue depressors there is the knowledge that if they watch, listen and try and get the answer on their individual white board they maybe called on to actually explain how they got the answer they did, which again would be them doing the math or science they were asked to learn.

This is a fabulous way for the kids to learn and keep them interested in what the teacher is teaching.

Now as you said it may help the teacher to identify the child who hasn't gotten. This could be any child from good or bad socio-economics or any ethnicity.

Of course having money is a socio-economic variable as well, but even if you have money your parents maybe busy with their jobs and not paying attention to whether or not you got a handle on math or science.

By "Ethnic groups" I am assuming that you mean other then white. Which is kind of narrow minded on your part. Often the other ethnic groups from white actually do quite well in math and sciences because their parents always want them to have more then they (the parents) did and that the parents do whatever they can to get them a better knowledge of math and science.

I hope your kids have a great time learning from their teachers and with your help to guide them that they will do great in the math, science and anything else they set their minds to.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2011 at 6:52 am

This sounds an awful lot like an expensive way to reintroduce individual chalkboards. What if teachers had smaller classes? I bet it would be a lot easier for them to figure out who is struggling. Wasting our tax dollars on high-paid consultants is NOT the answer. Empowering the people who are already the experts (that's teachers, folks) is the answer. How much money is spent making sure you have the best quality teachers money can buy instead of the best high-paid consultants?

FYI - sticks in a jar with kids names on them is not a new trick but one most teachers use on a daily basis.

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Posted by Ron
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 5, 2011 at 8:36 am

To Ed: Science is tested in 5th and 8th grade. 8th grade science test scores at Graham are high, in fact over 75% of students tested proficient or advanced the last three years. This is dramatically higher than the math scores of those same students. Look it up. The scores are very impressive.
I agree that this seems like a large expense for tongue depressors and white boards. It seems like the district goes though a lot programs as it is.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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