Our activity will use a sampler of the Essential Math Skills workbook.
Sometimes I use my job as a Mom as an excuse to test out adult education lessons. Recently I bought some geometric solids made for a Montessori lesson. This lesson is intended to be taught to 3-6 year olds, but adult students can benefit from a refresher on the names of these objects. And I ended up learning something really important about math in the process.
I love the Montessori method for hands-on learning, because it focuses on putting stuff in front of someone, then explaining what it’s called and what it can do. The introduction is a structured presentation, but then you let kids do what they naturally do: play with stuff. Montessori purists will call this a child’s “work.”
My well-planned idea went out the window when the box arrived. Before I could practice my presentation, my kids wanted to help take everything out. Then they started stacking the blocks and turning them into castles and guns while I struggled to remember the difference between the two egg-shaped pieces. My kids started to debate which one looked like a potato and which one was an egg. While I quickly re-read the Montessori Geometric Solids presentation, they organized the pieces into stacks with the same bases. All the triangles were stacked, the squares were stacked, and the circles were stacked.
I started by asking what makes certain blocks easier to stack on each other. The answer is that they have similar shapes on the bottom, called the base. I asked them to trace a base on paper to see that the shapes are the same. Then they wanted to cut them out, just for an excuse to use scissors.
Next I asked how many names of the shapes they already knew, and we discussed some new words. This is where things got really interesting, because again the kids started to see patterns before I even mentioned it. I drew an oval to show that the shape that looks like an oval is an ovoid. A shape that looks like an ellipse is an ellipsoid. We still couldn’t agree which was the potato or the egg.
Then my son drew a surf board. “And a surfoid!” my five-year-old proclaimed.
Sure! Surfoid. Why not?
This is where math can get really fun. Though Montessori’s methods are a century old, they have a lot of parallels with Common Core Math that parents are complaining about (another reason we hate it might be because over 55% of adults in the U.S. can’t do 4th grade level math). Why is this so different than the math most U.S. adults learned growing up?
Math like this shows us that geometry is just a way to describe the world around us. Instead of providing abstract equations to memorize with one right or wrong answer, we learn how to recognize patterns and use tools to manipulate our world using words and numbers. And when we learn to use mathematical tools instead of memorize equations, that’s when we learn how to create surfoids. That’s when math becomes play.
This afternoon I got to experience one of the new professional development workshops GED Testing Service is rolling out this year. All About Scoring guides teachers on the criteria to score constructed responses on the GED Test.
Since the need for this kind of training is high, I was particularly interested in their format, tools…and how the presenters handle some of the sticky questions that educators ask me in similar sessions.
So I cordially threw out my most popular Extended Response FAQs and thought you’d be interested in the answers straight from GEDTS:
“Spelling is not scored on this rubric. But how can the computer pick up the keywords?”
I always get this question, and it comes from educators who were in K-12 when they started implementing computer-based testing. At that time, test takers quickly learned how to game the automated scoring with templates and keywords.
The GEDTS folks assured us: there are no keywords.
At this point in the workshop, my participants tend to look like Neo from The Matrix when he learns “there is no spoon.”
How is this possible?
GEDTS emphasized that the new automated scoring rubric was trained by thousands of sample responses graded by real humans, much like Watson the Super Computer learning to play Jeopardy. The scoring system learned to look for “a constellation of errors and qualities” in writing, not the “right answer.” The technical term for what the computer is doing is latent semantic analysis.
Basically, the computer can read like you do: looking for an adequate explanation of a concept using related terms. But using numbers.
This is Artificial Intelligence, folks. No joke. We’re living in the movie 2001. In 2015.
But there is a human back up system. If the computer can’t figure out the scoring, it gets spit back out for a human. If a test taker disputes a score, a human handles it. And humans regularly audit a selection of responses just to make sure the system is working properly.
So there are things the computer can’t do, but one thing it definitely won’t be looking for is keywords. We’ve come a long way since the first computer-based scoring in K-12, technologically speaking. If a student can game the automated scoring system, we’ve found the next Tony Stark, and we should worry about him or her hacking the Pentagon.
“But what about templates? What structure should I teach my students so they can pass?”
I’ll defer here to some direct quotes from the GEDTS trainers’ response:
There are no templates.
Ideas should drive the structure, not structure drive the ideas.
Using formulas for writing gives our students permission to check their brains at the door and not do the work we’re asking them to do.
The 2002 GED Test couldn’t handle good writing. Good writing doesn’t conform to the template of mediocre writing. We can celebrate really good writing by using the scoring tools.
“Who are the ‘subject matter experts’ quoted in the GEDTS scoring guide materials?”
Interesting back story: After collecting the thousands of sample responses, GEDTS participated in a process called Range Finding. This process involved real adult educators talking about how they would score the responses and why they would give certain scores to figure out the range for each score in the rubric. It took a few weeks. During the sessions the GEDTS Content Manager (not her real title) listened in, and quoted the educators for the guide.
There are no magic, elite subject matter experts driving these scores. They were real educators having conversations about scoring.
The goal of the workshop All About Scoring is that after enough practice with these scoring tools, you, too, can be a GEDTS scoring expert.
The scoring tools and more can be found at http://www.gedtestingservice.com/educators/constructedresponse
GEDTS has provided GED Marketplace for potential test takers to access & purchase study materials. Until now they have only required compliance with their trademark and copyright policies, and have decided to implement a content review process.
It is important to note that while they want this process to benefit the adult education community, 70% of test takers study independently. The GEDTS content review process is only going to cover whether the curriculum has 100% coverage of the GED Test Assessment Targets. It will not measure additional factors important to institutional purchasers like reporting features, technology requirements, or training and customer support.
Publishers must opt in to the process by paying for their own review through the 3rd party evaluator ProCert. The audience was assured that GED Testing Service is not making a dime in the process and the amount is not a financial burden.
Each book, online course, or other curriculum product will be independently reviewed for its coverage per subject. Anything that does not provide full coverage will have 6 months to remediate. “Other” materials (like practice test) will not be required to review, but will also not be eligible for the content-aligned stamp of approval.
Publishers who do not opt to participate will not be included on the GED Marketplace or be eligible to sell GED Ready vouchers. Publishers will need to go through the process again if they undergo a major change (like translating from English to Spanish, or Essential Education’s recent transition to our new website, doubling our content).
Participation and results will not be revealed until October 2015. Content will be indicated in the GED Marketplace as “Other,” in progress, or reviewed and aligned.
Yesterday, I had the chance to repeat a shorter version of my COABE session on the GED Social Studies Extended Response as the monthly webinar for Tuesdays with Essential Education. And we recorded it this time!
In both sessions, I focused on enduring issues as a way to engage students in the Great Conversation. Enduring issues are questions that societies have to answer over and over again, and may be particular questions that are the focus of social discussion. Having a voice in that conversation is civic participation, which is one of the most important goals of our civics and social studies curricula.
You can watch the entire video (about 50 minutes). Here is my section of slides to view or download:
If you’re at the COABE Conference 2015 in Denver, Colorado, have you downloaded the App? Check in to my session, starting soon! Whether near or far, visit their site to check out all the sessions and follow along on social media.
“You’re a house-sitter, Mom, because you sit in the house all day!” That’s my four-year-old’s understanding of working from home.
When I was a kid, my Dad worked from home for IBM. On conference calls, he would wear a hands-free headset while watering plants or doing dishes. My brother joked that Dad’s job was, “Yelling at plants.”
Today my own family is just as mystified by what I do up in my attic office, and maybe you are curious, too, Farrell Scholars.
The easiest way to explain my job is online teaching. Thanks to phones, email, and video conferencing, I can teach without being physically in the room with my students.
My “students” are teachers and administrators who are using computer-based products for adult education. The company I work for, Essential Education, is based in Corvallis, Oregon.
Here’s a picture of Global Headquarters! This is “The Vatican” of Essential Education, where my awesome Boss works and decisions get made!
Our customers are located all over the U.S. and we’re branching into international markets. We’re making headway in South Africa, but I haven’t been invited there…yet!
When an adult literacy organization purchases one of our products, then I set up their account and help them get started using the product.
After the webinars, I provide ongoing support along with the sales reps and our other admin staff. This means I respond to emails and phone calls from teachers and administrators.
Sometimes it’s as simple as logging in for the first time, other times they have questions about program design or how assessments are scored.
Most days, I only get a few requests but some days the phone is ringing off the hook. I try to clear my inbox every day, too. Customer communication is my first priority, but not my only job.
The rest of the time, I am BUILDING!
An instructional designer is a fancy name for a multimedia author. I don’t just write text. I create interactive, online lessons, quizzes, tests, and work with a team to design courses for adult learners.
Right now I am focused on Social Studies with another designer who is based in Hawaii.
We divide up material to be created (right now lots of quizzes and practice tests), and the other team members provide editing and feedback.
Our materials adapt to the student, so the tests and quizzes we’ve been writing create individual learning plans to prepare students in different subjects.
We also share articles and videos about education, technology, and topical issues, discussing perspectives and ways we can incorporate best practices into our work.
MYTH 1: I work with kids home
True, occasionally me or my co-workers have kids at home during work time. But if you’ve ever met my children, the two of them together are like the Tazmanian devil. They will tear up the house if I don’t give them my full attention.
On the other hand, I’m not tied to my phone and computer 24/7. Some people work like this, but not me. I protect my family time. After-hours calls automatically go to voice mail. When I’m off work, I’m unavailable.
Myth 2: I work part-time
My hours are 8:30am to 5:00pm weekdays, and some evenings.
I have to be responsive to the teachers, students, and design team. I have deadlines, meetings, provide trainings, and that definitely adds up to a full-time workload.
If I don’t “show up” or do my assigned work, it’s obvious pretty quickly.
While I’m not in the physical room with the team, they know whether or not I’m “there” on Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Dropbox.
Truth: No Snow Days
Since I don’t have to commute, I don’t get snow days or most federal holidays. My office has a nice view of the houses and field across the street.
So what kind of projects do I work on?
Example 1: Grading Extended Responses
Essential Education is unique among adult education publishers in that our team grades all the Extended Responses that students submit online. I grade on Wednesday mornings, and we typically get 40-60 responses each day.
If I don’t get my responses graded, then it’s quickly obvious to the next in line if they log in and see 30 still to be graded!
Example 2: Tagging and Testing
This month we’re entering tons of metadata on lessons, tests, and quizzes in our new course management system.
It’s data entry–mindless and repetitive–but still engaging because I helped to build what we’re entering.
I do my best to keep myself entertained and focused. A couple weeks ago, I was adding lessons to a unit called “Social Studies Analysis.” To find “Analysis” I got to type “anal” over and over again, 25 times.
So that’s what I do all day: type “anal.” I love my job. No joke!
The GED© Test went through a lot of changes last year, but I want to make sure one shift in Social Studies is not overlooked.
The previous GED© test emphasized both World History and U.S. History. Instead the new test focuses 20% on U.S. History, with no World History. The closest element includes “key historical documents that have shaped American constitutional government,” but I’m not sure how many documents from World History would be included on that list.
In addition to understanding major historical documents, GED© Test Takers should prepare with a general grounding in the following historical periods:
- European Settlement of the Americas,
- Revolutionary & Early Republic Period,
- Civil War and Reconstruction,
- Civil Rights,
- World Wars I & II,
- Cold War, and
- Post-9/11 Foreign Policy.
Want a little more detail? The following are the subcategories contained in the Assessment Guide for Educators, last updated in July 2014. The notes in parentheses are my own summaries of each point:
Revolutionary and Early Republic Periods
- Revolutionary War (U.S. independence from Britain)
- War of 1812 (still fighting the British for territory around the Great Lakes)
- Articles of Confederation (states agree to work together under one government, later replaced by the U.S. Constitution)
- Manifest Destiny (belief that God wants the U.S. to expand West, with purchase and treaties that expand territory)
- U.S. Indian Policy (established relationships with Native Americans as sovereign nations, and signed treaties that removed them from most of their ancestral lands)
- George Washington (General of the Revolutionary Army, first President, whose biggest legacy was peaceful transition of power)
- Thomas Jefferson (primary author of the Declaration of Independence and third President whose writings still impact policy)
Civil War and Reconstruction
- Slavery (ended by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863)
- Sectionalism (Northern vs. Southern regional divisions resulted in 11 states trying to secede and form the Confederate States of America)
- Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Federal Constitution-go read them)
- Reconstruction policies (federal government trying to rebuild areas torched by the war)
- Jim Crow laws (legal segregation by race, mostly in Southern states)
- Women’s Suffrage (founded in 1848, succeeded in securing women’s right to vote in 19th Amendment ratified in 1920)
- Civil Rights Movement (protests against Jim Crow laws and economic inequalities, particularly in 1950s-60s)
- Supreme Court rulings: Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) allowing “separate but equal” racial segregation in schools overturned by Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
- Warren court decisions (Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren declared legal racial segregation unconstitutional)
World War I
- Alliance System (by 1914, European nations had organized into two opposing alliances that went to war)
- Imperialism (idea that superior societies should conquer others to expand their Empire)
- Nationalism (pride in national identity)
- Militarism (using military power to conquer land and people)
- Russian Revolution (two revolutions in 1917 that overturned the Tsar-royal family-and instated the Bolsheviks-communists)
- Woodrow Wilson (President 1913-1921 who claimed U.S. obligated to promote global democracy)
- Treaty of Versailles (signed in Paris 1919 to end World War I)
- League of Nations (first international organization to promote world peace, replaced by the United Nations after World War II)
- Meagen’s Note: Today UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) promotes quality adult and family literacy programs around the world.
World War II
- Neutrality Acts and Isolationism (Congress passed laws in 1930s to avoid involvement in international conflicts)
- Allied Powers (coalition of nations to repel invasion by the Axis powers, eventually led by Britain, U.S., and Soviet Union)
- Axis Powers (lead by Italy, Japan, and Germany to expand their territories)
- Fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism (ideologies of a superior race or nation promoted by the Axis powers leading to invasions)
- The Holocaust (German genocide including six million Jews)
- Japanese-American internment (citizens and residents of Japanese descent were interred in camps during the war for fear of spies)
- Decolonization (post-war independence movements in Asia, Middle East, and Africa)
- GI Bill (U.S. government gives funds to veterans for college and to purchase homes, creating a robust middle class)
- Meagen’s Note: The GED Test was created in 1947 to give enlisted veterans without a high school diploma an alternative way to enter the workforce or college and use the GI Bill.
The Cold War
- Communism (markets controlled by central government)
- Capitalism (decentralized power in markets by corporations and consumers)
- NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization protects the interests of countries around the N. Atlantic Ocean, still in existence)
- The Warsaw Pact (countries of central & eastern Europe to protect communist interests against NATO)
- U.S. maturation as an international power (’nuff said)
- Division of Germany, Berlin Blockade and Airlift (Germany divided into capitalist West and communist East, including Berlin wall)
- Truman doctrine (In 1947 President Truman offered assistance to all nations under threat from external forces)
- Marshall Plan (U.S. support of $17 billion to rebuild European economies)
- Lyndon B Johnson and The Great Society (Policies to end domestic poverty and discrimination, but funding later diverted to Vietnam)
- Meagen’s Note: This set of policies has the most direct impact on literacy programs in the U.S. today, including the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, VISTA, Head Start, and more.
- Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal (President Nixon resigned after investigation of abuses of power by his administration)
- Collapse of U.S.S.R. and the democratization of Eastern Europe (end of communist Warsaw Pact, East Germany, etc)
American Foreign Policy since 9/11
The GED Testing Service has no subcategories here, so I guess this is still up for debate. I would create the following categories (there’s a lot one could say here, so I will try to focus on highlights):
- Taliban’s attacks on September 11th, 2001
- Al-Qaida’s international network and leader Osama Bin Laden
- U.S. support of Israel and international disputes over Israeli blockade of Palestinian territories
- U.S. and NATO Invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush
- Arab Spring: grassroots protest and military movements for democracy from Tunisia to Syria
- Nation-building strategies: promoting education and economic development to reduce influence of terrorist groups
- Meagen’s Note: Adult education is definitely a nation-building strategy!
- Guantanamo Bay and enhanced interrogation techniques
- Unmanned drones and air strikes under Barack Obama
Next up on my list of Education Controversies in 2015: Common Core! It’s a household name! But what does it mean?
“Common Core” to some means worksheet-driven, teach-to-the-test curriculum.
“Common Core” for others is code for failed educational policy.
“Common Core” can translate into “teachers are unappreciated and underpaid,” or “high stakes standardized testing,” or “failed funding formulas that perpetuate economic inequities.”
Say that one five times fast!
When I see headlines that blame “Common Core” for everything wrong in education, my hands get clammy and my heart starts pounding. I have to take a few deep breaths and think about my happy place.
Hearing the rhetoric around Common Core feels like I’m on an elevator that is going up at a normal pace, and suddenly someone starts yelling it’s going too slow, and another person wants to get off, and someone else is convinced they are going to get lost and it’s all the elevator’s fault.
And for some reason these screaming voices seem most angry that they do not know how the elevator works.
So here’s how the Common Core elevator really works. Let me break it down for you…
Now, I realize that education is much more complicated to operate than an elevator, but this is a metaphor so bear with me. Also let me qualify by saying that I have plenty of normal-voice, reasonable conversations with insightful educators about their take on the Common Core. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, please keep reading. I have a potential opportunity for you at the end.
But just in case you’re not an education policy nerd, let me explain: the Common Core State Standards “elevator” is a list of skills that students should know at each grade level in English Language Arts and Mathematics.
That’s it. A list of skills. Example: 2.NBT.2 “Count within 1000; skip-count by 5s, 10s, and 100s.”
Nothing more, nothing less.
Confession: I like the Common Core State Standards!
You are skeptical? “What’s to like?” you ask.
The list of skills is logical. The end point makes sense for the demands of the emerging economy. The emphasis on argument (in both language arts and math), three-dimensional geometry, and understanding complex texts is based in solid evidence on what is both effective in education and needed in the workforce.
I could say more, but I highly recommend that anyone interested read the Standards yourself and form your own opinion.
When talking about the standards, it’s equally important to note what the Common Core is NOT.
It is not a funding policy. It is not a test. It is not a reading list or a series of workbooks. It’s not a lesson plan or a teacher evaluation rubric. It’s not a union contract and it is definitely NOT a federal mandate.
You see, the Common Core elevator just determines the height of skill for each grade level, so they build on each other. And it also means that the 45 states who have accepted the same standards will be able to communicate better and share resources, because they have shared goals and language.
How teachers build those skills are called lessons and curricula.
How schools measure those skills are called standardized tests.
How schools measure teacher effectiveness at building the skills is called teacher evaluation.
How states funds schools based on student performance on standardized tests is called a tragedy…I mean the funding formula.
So Common Core is the backbone of this structure because it determines how high students have to perform to move up the elevator to get to the next level. A massive multiplex of lessons, curricula, standardized tests, teacher evaluation, and funding policy has already been built on this Common Core backbone in 45 states. The standards go higher than ever before. They defy gravity. Now that we’ve seen it in action, some people are getting vertigo.
It’s different than what adults learned in school, and many teachers and parents have no models for how to teach these skills to their students or kids. That is enough for some people to send them packing without taking the time to figure out if the new way is actually better or worse.
The worst part about the screaming people on the elevator is that it’s too much, too late.
Where were these voices in all the boring academic and administrative committee meetings starting back in 1995? Where were these voices during the stages of public comment on the standards in 2009-2010? Where were these voices when individual states were reviewing and evaluating the standards to decide on adoption between 2010-2013?
That process was led by state governors. It involved people at all levels from parents to presidents. Writing the standards was a very slow, quiet, transparent and highly democratic process that the general public ignored until 45 states had adopted it, built policy around it, and started putting these communal decisions into action.
Where have these talking heads been for the past five years while this stuff was being built? Or twenty?
It’s my personal conviction that if you wait to act on an issue until people are screaming in the streets, then in a democracy that means you probably missed the quiet meetings where the decisions were made. Sure, it feels very “civil rights era” to stage walk-ins or walk-outs or protests or press releases, but the real savvy and effectiveness of the movement was that they had targeted political objectives. Rallies may increase awareness, but what really matters is what you say during your turn at the microphone. Do you have a detailed, well-informed agenda when you get to the table with decision makers, or become a decision maker yourself?
I have yet to see talking points about “Common Core Reform” that actually address the content of the Common Core State Standards.
If you want reform (like the grass roots reformers who advocated for the Common Core Standards in the first place) you win by showing up over and over and over with the same message in front of as many audiences as you can find.
So whether or not you like the Common Core, you join the conversation by getting very familiar with the existing Standards. Remember this website: CoreStandards.org. Read everything on it.
Then think you can write a better test for it? Do it!
Think you can develop better lessons and curricula? Please!
In fact, if you really think you can create some awesome lessons for adult education aligned to the Common Core, my employer Essential Education is currently hiring Instructional Designers. Apply on LinkedIn and see if it’s a good fit.
And if you really don’t like the Common Core State Standards themselves, then draft your own version.
Yes, there are plenty of things going wrong in education right now. But quite frankly, I think the Common Core State Standards are a shining star. I give it an A+! The process and the result were a massive achievement that exceeded my expectations.
But what about the massive multiplex built around the Common Core elevator? What about the tests, and funding, and worksheets…the parts the public actually sees?
What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to your thoughts.