July 16, 2008

Science Leadership Academy

I made it through about ten minutes of Chris Lehmann's keynote speech at this year's NECC entitled Progressive Pedagogy and the 21st Century. Nothing you haven't seen before, but here's an embedded link for you diehards.



Lehmann is the principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA). SLA is a Philadelphia-based magnet high school which claims to be, not unsurprisingly, an "inquiry-driven, project-based 21st Century school with a 1:1 laptop program." SLA also makes available its 2007 Family Night Book (PDF) for prospective students and their families. Caveat Emptor.

The Family Handbook and Lehman's speech paint a rosy picture of progressive education and technology. You're supposed to get the impression that progressive education is simply super and adding technology takes it one step higher -- to the super-duper level.

Normally, at this point I'd criticize the inquiry-driven, project-based brand of progressive-education practiced at SLA, but SLA has already done the heavy-lifting for me with its Family Handbook.

The Family handbook helpfully gives us actual examples of its student projects making it clear that Lehmann's lofty rhetoric doesn't survive its contact with reality.

According to the Family Handbook:

Although student projects, in general, generate more student interest they also often have involved multiple steps and drafts and can, quite often, require a great deal more effort than just studying for a test. One of the first things students realized when they first come to SLA is that projects here are different. The key to this difference lies in a concept that the faculty employs to create curriculum called “Backward Design.” Teachers in each course ask the question – “What are the enduring understandings students should have when they leave this class?” Teachers then create projects that can only be completed by showing both the skills and knowledge that are deemed to be critical to master the subject and demonstrate that deep level of understanding.


Furthermore, "the primary assessment of student learning is through their projects" (p. 9).

So let's take a look at one of these projects from the Family Handbook. I'm going to assume that this is a project that SLA is proud of and that the student example demonstrates mastery of both the skills and knowledge that are critical to master the subject and demonstrate a deep level of understanding.

The project comes from page 10 of the Family Handbook and pertains to African-American History. The project is:

To write a letter as the president of an abolitionist society to the group’s members upon hearing the decision in the Dred Scott case. Your letter should explain the decision, your perspective as a leader of the abolitionist cause, and what you want your membership to do about the decision. The content of the letter is restricted to information available in 1857.


It appears that the student is expected to consult the Supreme Court's 1857 Scott v Sanford decision (54 glorious pages of mid 19th century prose), and perhaps other secondary sources, and construct a sensible interpretation of the decision in light of pre-Civil war historical events like an expert historian might do. That's a tall order for a novice student lacking the deep-structured well of domain knowledge possessed by the historian. Lacking this domain knowledge, we would expect a superficial analysis of the decision focusing on surface features of the decision rather than the more important abstract, functional features needed for an expert analysis of the problem.

A decent high-school level analysis of Dred Scott might go something like this:

Briefly, the Dred Scott decision is important because it upset the political compromise at the federal level (the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act) which served to limit the spread of slavery. Each new state would now be able to determine for itself whether slavery would be permitted within its borders under the doctrine of popular sovereignty. At this time in U.S. history, the population of the western territories was growing rapidly and the U.S. was growing rapidly as territories petitioned for statehood. This rapid growth threatened to upset the existing balance between slave states and free states which maintained a gridlocked Senate. As long as the Senate was gridlocked, the North would not be able to pass a constitutional amendment banning slavery in all the states. The North was content with this arrangement as long as slavery was contained in the existing slave states and, thus, a political compromise had been reached which permitted the admission of free states and slave states in equal proportion. The Dred Scott decision threw out this political compromise in favor of popular sovereignty. Thus, the Dred Scott decision threatened to upset the existing political balance, would permit the growth of slavery, and would make it impossible to amend the Constitution to make slavery illegal in the U.S.

(This is my synthesis of about a half dozen relevant secondary sources)

A superficial analysis of Dred Scott, in contrast, would focus on the plight of the slave, Dred Scott, who was seeking his freedom in federal court. A superficial analysis would focus on Dred Scott and not the larger issue--the spread of slavery. With this in mind, let's take a look at the example student project that SLA chose to include in its handbook:

Greetings Members:

These past few months have been busy, with major changes being implemented in government decisions. In the Supreme Court, a case has recently been heard that affects our mission to help reverse the plight of African-Americans in this country. This case goes against our values as Pennsylvanians, Philadelphians, and abolitionists, and our beliefs in human rights.

In the case of Dred Scott v Sanford, the courts unfortunately favored Mrs. Emerson, Mr Scott’s “owner”. While under the rule of his master, Mr. Scott was taken to live in Illinois state and Wisconsin territory, respectively, both of which are free. Mr. Scott pleaded that since he had lived in those areas, he was entitled to his freedom, because it was illegal for him to be living there and be enslaved at the same time. The court eventually decided that Mr. Scott was not a citizen, being of the African persuasion, and therefore had no right to sue in a federal court. They went further as well, stating that our U.S. Congress has no right to declare certain states free and 0thers slave-owning.

This decision promotes the message that African Americans have no rights. In the majority write-up, Chief Justice Roger Taney writes: “They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order; … so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” That statement is pure fiction. Negroes have had rights in our commonwealth for decades. One of our African American members, Mr. Forten, is a sail maker, and makes his living through his own business. He enjoys the right to own property and to make a profit. Mr. Forten would not benefit from being forced into backbreaking labor daily with insufficient food. No one would. The idea that slavery is beneficial to the slave is preposterous. No human would think it in his favor to be sold like a table and to work from sunrise to sunset, and then not get to reap a single seed he has sown.


Family Handbook, p. 10

This is a superficial analysis. The analysis focuses on the specific facts of the case, rather than the larger issue--the spread of slavery--presented by the decision. The student seems unaware that the (federal) citizenship issue was only important because Dred Scott was trying to gain redress in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction which required the plaintiff Scott to be a citizen of a different state than the defendant Sanford. The student fixates on the inflammatory language in the decision regarding plaintiff's citizenship which was merely of procedural importance. The analysis fails to cover any of the important issues presented by the decision, the historical context of the case, and why the case is historically important.

We shouldn't be surprised by the student's analysis. The student is a novice and is being asked to create a new interpretive narrative of facts stemming from the Dred Scott decision. The student, unlike the historian, is not an expert in pre-civil war history and how our republican form of government operates. The student lacks the background knowledge of the expert. Lacking this background knowledge, the student is going to have a difficult time separating the important facts from the unimportant facts, accessing what little relevant knowledge he possesses from his memory with the speed and accuracy needed to perform the analysis. The result is that the novice student is likely to focus on the surface features of the problem, rather than the abstract functional features of the problem that are needed to analyzes the problem. This is exactly what happened.

More importantly, the student's "inquiry" failed to teach the student what was supposed to be learned about the Missouri compromise, the Nebraska-Kansas act, bleeding Kansas, and all the other issues presented by slavery before the civil war. This wasn't supposed to be some silly busy-work project. This "project" was supposed to be "the primary assessment of student learning" showing "both the skills and knowledge that are deemed to be critical to master the subject and demonstrate that deep level of understanding." I think the project shows just the opposite. The student failed to acquire a deep understanding of the issues which was the entire object of the project.

The project continues with the student's recommendation for what the abolitionist society should do in light of the decision.

We must protest this unethical decision. Our society wishes its members to petition to lawmakers on the fairness of this ruling. The Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary in the Senate is one James Bayard Jr. of Delaware, a Democrat. His counterpart in the House of Representatives is George S. Houston, a Democrat hailing from Alabama. We beseech you to write to these men and protest this injustice! Help our brother in bonds who should rightfully be free. Every letter sent raises our chances to help Mr. Scott.

We thank you for your dutiful support of our efforts to help improve the condition of African Americans in our country and this Commonwealth. Many voices blend together to make a choir! With all of your voices singing, we know we make beautiful music. Please continue in your support so that one day we might all be free.


Petitioning the legislature's judiciary committee isn't going to accomplish much, especially for a 7-2 Supreme Court decision. And nevermind that the pre-civil war Democrats were mostly for the expansion of slavery, especially the southern Democrats, like the Senate member the student recommends petitioning. Again, the project shows that the student did not gain a deep understanding of the issues. A better answer would have been suggesting that its members persuade people to flood the new territories to affect the vote on whether slavery would be permitted under popular sovereignty which was the result of the decision.

Treating the student like a junior historian isn't going to make the student think like an historian. The student lacks the requisiste domain knowledge and the understanding of the abstract functional relationships inherent therein needed to perform the kind of analysis that an historian would be able to perform. This project isn't going to aid the student in acquiring that domain knowledge or give the student any practice thinking about the abstract relationahips which might have been gained by conducting a real analysis of the historical facts and the decision. Rather, the student wasted time conducting a superficial analysis which ignored all the relevant historical facts. The student missed a valuable opportunity to think about the important functional relationships presented by the exercise because the student was asked to create new content which is outsude his ability as a novice. This student didn't even gain practice in analyzing like an expert because he didn't analyze like an expert would have. It's a charade.

The fact that SLA included this project in the Family Handbook as an exemplary project is telling. This example supposedly shows the superior understanding supposedly conferred by the project-based inquiry pedagogy favored by SLA. Instead, what the example shows is that the "pedagogical" tail is wagging the "student learning" dog. That the student hasn't demonstrated a deep understanding isn't important. What is important is that SLA gets to teach according to its ideological bias.

It is somewhat embarrassing that SLA doesn't understand the difference between deep understanding and superficial understanding. Anyone can google "dred scott" and read the hits. But, it takes someone with some domain knowledge to separate the unimportant facts from the important ones and to synthesise the important facts into a good analysis. Sadly, this SLA student is no closer to that goal than he was before the project.

Update: Chris Lehmann stops by in the comments to provide a lengthy rebuttal of my arguments re SLA and this particular project. Chris actually advances the discussion and doesn't just give us talking points, whcih is a good thing. I'm tied up for the rest of the day and won't be able to respond until later. Play nice until then.

Update II: Here is my response.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I agree with your logic, there is a small grammar error to correct:

"And nevermind that the pre-civil war Democrat's were mostly for the expansion of slavery, especially the southern democrats, like the Senate member the student recommends petitioning."

Democrats is plural, not possessive. I assume that the Democrat did not own a "were"? You might also consider whether the second use of the term should be capitalized.

Feel free to delete this comment after the corrections are done!

4trogan said...

What an excellent post, Ken! Loved your analysis.

I am going to use it as an example to show my friends when they ask me why I think project-based learning is a sham.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

Ken,

If you'd gone beyond the 10 minute mark, you would've heard the suggestion that high school kids could even redesign services/operations for FEMA!

I wish I'd stopped at 10 minutes, too.

When I wrote a post critical of NECC 2008, explaining why I didn't go - and in that post, I didn't even touch on the utter uselessness of presentations like Lehmann's - several people directed me to this keynote video. Watch it, they said, and I'd get what NECC was all about.

I suppose if you say something coherently and with a bit of energy, no one cares how far it deviates from reality.

KDeRosa said...

While I agree with your logic, there is a small grammar error to correct

Thanks. I found an additional dozen more errors while correcting those. Hopefully, it reads a little better now.

KDeRosa said...

Matthew,

I found the video from reading your original post. Thanks.

I listened to the rest of it today. That entire discussion of natural disasters was a hoot. i especially liked when they rattled off the half dozen areas of expertise that the students would "learn" by doing the project. What they mean by "learn" is "would need to know beforehand to properly understand."

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In this case, the prrof of the efficacy of the pedagogy is in what the student has learned. These projects show that the students aren't learning much.

Kassissieh said...

That the student takes a step toward building the skill of authentic primary source analysis is far more important than their possession of this particular fact from history. Today, I understand so little history because I was presented with so many facts to remember and never taught to conduct analysis for myself. In other fields, I built up, step by step, the skills of research and analysis, to the point where I became a competent scientist instead. Thank goodness my science teachers adopted an inquiry-based, authentic instructional model. Too bad my history teachers focus so much on content acquisition.

Richard

KDeRosa said...

Thanks for the comment, Richard.

That the student takes a step toward building the skill of authentic primary source analysis is far more important than their possession of this particular fact from history.

Supposedly, the purpose of the exercise was for the student to development a deep understanding of the issue. That didn't happen. It didn't happen because the student lacked the prerequisite domain knowledge and apparently was unable to glean that knowledge from google. Analyzing primary sources is an important skill, but let's not pretend that anybut but a superficial analysis can be performed without knowing quite a bit about the issue.

Today, I understand so little history because I was presented with so many facts to remember and never taught to conduct analysis for myself.

Learning facts and conducting analyses are not mutually exclusive.

In other fields, I built up, step by step, the skills of research and analysis, to the point where I became a competent scientist instead.

No doubt with much domain knowledge at your disposal.

Thank goodness my science teachers adopted an inquiry-based, authentic instructional model. Too bad my history teachers focus so much on content acquisition.

Of course, conducting pre-scripted science labs is not exactly science nor is it what real scientists do.

I suggest reading Critical Thinking: Why is it so hard to teach? and then analyzing your comment in light of the underlying cognitive science which, I believe, is contary thereto.

Robert said...

That was fantastic to read, a tour de force. But, I think it might refute itself!

Imagine if what you read was the first and not the final draft of the students work. And then they got given your criticism in layers, and had to redo their work taking into account different levels of abstraction, going out to gain background knowledge, etc and then coming back time and again until they got it right.

Perhaps part of the problem is not with the project idea per se, but that the teachers don't know what the result of a project should really look like. That the project is done in one shot, and not as a build test fix cycle.

I don't have any good comparative research so I approach this with uncertainty...but when teaching computer programing that larger projects were good ways to solidify students learning get them to see how all the components play together in a real world setting. I think the time on the final project was better spent than introducing more material.

In engineering I find that there are people who did well in formal academic environments who have a hard time transitioning to be successfull outside of them. I have hope that projects can help those folks make the transition to the rest of the world.

hopefully skeptical..

Anonymous said...

but DI also teaches critical thinking. From your own blog:
http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2006/11/teaching-logic-to-second-graders.html

The difference between DI and other critical thinking courses is that DI explicitly teaches logic whereas the other methods try to beat around the bush. Once learnt, the logical principles can be applied, like algebra, towards many different problems, such as those found on the LSAT.


ari-free

Tracy W said...

Imagine if what you read was the first and not the final draft of the students work. And then they got given your criticism in layers, and had to redo their work taking into account different levels of abstraction, going out to gain background knowledge, etc and then coming back time and again until they got it right.

Why not tell them how to do it right in the first place? And then have them practice doing it right?

This looping round and round merely in order to recreate the knowledge of professional historians strikes me as remarkably inefficient.

...but when teaching computer programing that larger projects were good ways to solidify students learning get them to see how all the components play together in a real world setting. I think the time on the final project was better spent than introducing more material.

At engineering school we were not merely taught the physics and technical skills, but also taught some project management skills. In that circumstance, time spent on larger group projects was certainly valuable - in part because we were drawing on skills developed by professional engineers over a century.

It's one thing to teach students complex skills such as historical analysis or project management and then have the students apply them. It's another thing entirely to expect students to develop those skills by doing projects, without bothering with the initial teaching stage.

Tracy W said...

That the student takes a step toward building the skill of authentic primary source analysis is far more important than their possession of this particular fact from history.

Is it? After all, most students will not become professional historians who need the skill of authentic primary source analysis. But most of them will become American citizens, which means they have the potential to be voters. Given that the impact of slavery and the American Civil War is still vibrating through the USA today, and that the USA's constitution has been in continual effect since before that time, understanding the history of the Civil War is arguably more important.

Robert said...

"Why not tell them how to do it right in the first place? And then have them practice doing it right?"

You certainly could state the expectations of the project up front and give such instruction, but the students may fall short. If they fall short one normal thing is to give them a lower grade and move on, but another option that seems more in the spirit of DI, is to help them see what went wrong and have them do it again until they get it right.

"This looping round and round merely in order to recreate the knowledge of professional historians strikes me as remarkably inefficient."

I think this is open to experiment. One possible value of the looping is that people can experience expectation failure (buzz word alert) which might prompt better learning. The second related thing is that they might better understand the motivation for learning the different skills if they see how the lack of those skills results in failures.

You could start by breaking the process of the project down step by step and have them do a (few?) project in a controlled manner piece by piece where the expectations for each piece are spelled out. But after practicing this a few times, one would want to pull back and have the students do bigger chunks, until finally they can do a whole project without intervention.

"It's one thing to teach students complex skills such as historical analysis or project management and then have the students apply them. It's another thing entirely to expect students to develop those skills by doing projects, without bothering with the initial teaching stage."

I think I largely agree with this. One question is what is what balance between success and failure do we want in projects? What leads to better motivation and learning, and a more robust person. My guess is that having a good dose of failure in the learning process, where that failure is treated as a opportunity and not as a negative.

Tracy W said...

Robert, I suspect we mostly agree. I agree it is important for students who fall short to understand what went wrong and be able to try it again until they get it right. That's what I meant by "practice", and I should have spelled it out in the first place.

I also agree it is important to start off with students practicing skills by piece, and then work up to performing whole projects by themselves.

I also think it is very useful to motivate a skill by showing what happens if it's not used - though I think that motivation can also be created by providing students with examples where the skill is not used and asking them to critique it. For example, when I wanted my workmates to learn to indent their code, after telling them the rule several times on various occasions, I gave them a piece of code written by myself that didn't use indentation and let them see how its readability was drastically improved by indenting. This has the advantage that the teacher controls the example and thus can hone it in on exactly what skill needs the motivation.

I think that learning to tolerate failure is an important experience for students. But I think to do this properly requires hard work on the part of the school:
1. There should be a process to ensure that the student who experiences failures also in the end learns whatever they should be taking away from the lesson.
2. If it is valuable to experience failure then all kids should experience failure, including ones who are very smart, well-read and have very smart, well-read, involved parents.

This requires some serious design of projects. For example, a high school student with an interest in civil war history might well have acquired the deeper understanding of the Dred Scott decision outside school, and thus not experience failure on this project. I suspect that people often say that it is important to teach kids to tolerate failure as a way of excusing badly-taught and designed projects without ever having thought about what it would mean to really expose all students to failure.

I'm not sure what you mean by "expectation failure". Can you please explain?

KDeRosa said...

Imagine if what you read was the first and not the final draft of the students work. And then they got given your criticism in layers, and had to redo their work taking into account different levels of abstraction, going out to gain background knowledge, etc and then coming back time and again until they got it right.

There are a few problems.

You're taking what is already a time-consuming and inefficient affair and turning it into an even longer and more inefficient affair.

You're also gradually converting "inquiry" into plain old instruction which appears to go against the grain of what they're trying to do at SLA.

lastly, it is terribly inefficient to have students learn the wrong discoveries before having to relearn the right ones.

From Willingham's Students Remember...What They Think About

There is little doubt that students remember material they generate themselves better than material that is handed to them. This "generation effect," as it is called (Slamecka & Graf, 1978), is indeed powerful, and it is due, in part, to forcing the learner to think about the meaning of material (although other techniques can do that as well). Part of the effect does seem to be unique to the actual generation of the answer, over and above thinking about meaning. One might suppose, therefore, that discovery learning should be employed whenever possible. However, given that memory follows thought, one thing is clear: Students will remember incorrect "discoveries" just as well as correct ones.

Considerable care must be taken to ensure that the path of students’ thoughts will be a profitable one. For example, advocates of discovery learning often point out that children learn to use some computer software rapidly and effectively merely by "playing around with it." That may be true, but that learning environment is also quite structured in that profitless actions are immediately discouraged by the system not working. In effect, the system is so structured that profitless discoveries are impossible; but few classroom activities can achieve this kind of structure. How much anatomy will students learn by "playing around" with frog dissection? Can one anticipate the thoughts of students who dissect frogs with little direction? Although discovery learning may be powerful in highly structured contexts that make the correct discovery virtually inevitable, in others it is likely to prove unproductive.
****

We want students to think about what they are learning, but it doesn not follow that discovery learning/inquiry is a good or efficient vehicle for accomplishing that task.

Brett said...

Ken,

Your analysis was very thought-provoking and certainly addresses some significant issues with trying to incorporate a project or inquiry-based approach. It has left me with a lot of things to consider.

However, you took the easy way out. What you did (at least from my reading) was rip apart a current approach and effort and identify all of its weaknesses (which certainly exist) and suggest that in large part the project is invalid because of a lack of domain knowledge.

Considering that sufficient domain knowledge would probably be impossible (since historians spend years learning and analyzing specific topics) how would you suggest approaching this topic or idea pedagogically. You certainly identified the salient issue in this topic, but my question to you would be how a teacher might help a student come to that understanding. It is that additional perspective I would love to hear more about.

KDeRosa said...

Hi, Brett.

That's a good idea, I'll try to put something together for early next week. However, in the meantime, I'm still interested in hearing from those passionate inquiry educators who can explain where I went wrong in my analysis of this project.

Chris Lehmann said...

Oh, why not...

One, let's start with the premise that you and I have fundamentally different views on educational philosophy, so I'd argue that you're predisposed to disapprove of our school.

Let's also state that, as you point out, we are completely transparent about our philosophy at SLA. Between my blog, the Family Night Book, the web site, etc, you can get a sense of what we believe pretty easily. Also, we encourage all prospective students and parents to come spend a day at the school... not a special "everyone-visits" day, but any day. We want families to understand our educational philosophy because we want kids to make an informed decision about where they want to go to high school. So we're not trying to trick anyone into coming to SLA.

Given that transparency, we've had a great interest in our school. We're also pleased with the academic results we've seen. So far, we are currently on track to have over a 90% four-year graduation rate from SLA, and by qualitative and quantitative metrics (attendance, course passing rates, PSAT scores, as well as early research by two PhD students), kids are doing very well.

So to the specific points you raise:


A) You show an interesting unwillingness to accept the scope of the piece or that the scope of the piece has merit. To do this work, the students had to examine primary source materials, learn about abolitionist societies, learn about the Dred Scott case through multiple lenses -- including the political one you favor. And then they had to create a piece of writing that a) showed historical understanding and b) made a decision to argue a point of view of one of the groups active at that time. All of that maps to the standards of the state for history. Moreover, during the course of the unit, students were engaged in a variety of instructional techniques. The assumptions you make about the kind of teaching that happens at SLA are wrong. Moreover, even in my presentation that you cite, I talk about how traditional forms of assessment -- quizzes and tests -- have their place in our classrooms, they just are now lower on our hierarchy of assessment. Tests and quizzes are great ways to see if kids have learned how to handle skills and content in a narrowly defined context. What the student projects do is see if they can transfer those skills and content to a larger context.

B) I'd argue that analysis of what was missing suggests your own bias toward what he feels is important to learn about that material. That's fine, the single greatest limiting factor in school is time. If you want to cover a great deal of material -- and even in "progressive" schools, history courses have a lot to cover, you are never going to get to every lens. And, by the way, while this assessment may not have asked kids to deal with the larger political lens, other work did. And yes, we do often question our balance with depth and breadth -- that's the question all good progressive schools should ask themselves, just as all good traditional schools should ask themselves about their balance of skills and content, information transferal and knowledge acquisition.

C) The level of analysis you suggests is warranted is collegiate -- or at least 11th or 12th grade -- in its complexity when this was a 9th grade piece of work. (We only had ninth graders when we published the book.) I think it holds up as a sophisticated, smart piece of work that shows an emergent sense of what it means to have a historical sense of the world.

D) You and I have a fundamental disagreement over the value of skills v. content in student understanding. You believe that until the student has enough facts at their disposal, there is little benefit to asking them to "think like a historian." We believe that those skills develop with practice and that students' ability to develop the ability to apply an historical lens on the world requires frequent, guided, scaffolded practice. That's fine. We'll have to agree to disagree.

Inquiry-driven learning doesn't mean you just set the kids off on Google. Guided inquiry means giving kids skills to access resources and make decisions on their own.

I don't think you're going to read this comment and suddenly think, "Aha! I get it, SLA is wonderful!" But I also would hope that we could move beyond strawman arguments -- I'll promise not to argue that KIPP creates a bunch of automatons who merely can regurgitate what they have been told if you promise not to argue that SLA is some unstructured school where kids just are indoctrinated toward an ideological bias or kids merely learn some surface knowledge by surfing the web.

As always, I offer you the opportunity to come visit SLA. I don't think you'll like what you see there -- again, my goal is not to convince you that we're the one right school, but rather so you could see that there is more than one approach to schooling. I have no doubt that a thoughtful application of DI schoolwide can create an effective school where kids learn well. Can you entertain the same notion that an inquiry-driven approach that has been executed thoughtfully can do the same?

Chris Lehmann said...

By the way... I love the Willingham article, and I agree, we must use inquiry-driven learning carefully. One of the reasons I prefer "inquiry" to "discovery" as a semantic term is because I think the meaning of the word itself suggests a more thoughtful process. Learning rarely just happens through discovery, but rather it happens through the careful process of inquiry -- as modeled by scientific inquiry, for example.

I think that you'd see teachers employing Willingham's ideas every day at SLA. Again, we can agree that the stereotype of progressive education as "Look, you created it, it MUST be wonderful! is not what we want, but it is a stereotype of progressive education that is much more the exception than the rule. Structured, scaffolded, thoughtful inquiry is exactly the kind of education I'd advocate for, and it's exactly what I've seen at the progressive schools I've worked at and with in my career.

(Oh... and to Robert, I agree, the iterative process of learning from your mistakes and revising them is a great method... but Ken does raise the proper point of asking how much time that does take. Again, that's one of the balancing acts you have to constantly assess and reassess.)

Eric said...

One could explore Taney's legal positivism in contrast to natural law theory, Charles Sumners' stirring denunciations of the hideous effrontery and usurpations of the Slave Oligarchy, the role of the Enlightenment in fostering scientific racism, or John Quincy Adam's Amistad defense and its misrepresentation on film.

But let's make some of the improvements that Ken hints at. Instead of writing ineffective letters, have a mob assemble at the Capital, chanting "hey hey, ho ho, Chief Justice Taney's got to go," and "Two four six eight, you suck when you deliberate!" When troops arrive to assert order, taunt them and throw rocks. If they fire in response, have an engraver memorialize the massacre and use copies to generate sympathy for a war.

Now, of the two proposed responses, can SLA students identify which has historical precedent? Of all potential lessons relevant to this topic, which are most important for SLA students and society?

J Allen said...

As someone who stayed for Lehmann's entire presentation at NECC and understands the value of project based learning, I would second Chris' point that it wasn't a pbl lovefest during the presentation. If you think a little more critically, as Chris points out in his comment, about some of the projects mentioned during the presentation (yes, including the FEMA idea...which has the potential to produce far better results than FEMA itself), you would see the true benefit of the process. I'm not saying pbl is for everyone to use exclusively, I'm saying when it is done correctly it can be a huge boost to an educational environment. If you don't like pbl, great, but it's merit shouldn't be underestimated.

KDeRosa said...

you would see the true benefit of the process. ... when it is done correctly it can be a huge boost to an educational environment.

The benefit/boost of the process should be evident in the student's learning as demonstrated by the student's work. With reference to the student's work point out how pbl has benefitted this student. Convince me.

Roger Sweeny said...

This may be off-topic but I think you miss the major significance of the Dred Scott case. As I understand it ...

The case threatened to turn slavery into a national institution. It blurred the distinction between slave and free states.

If a slave stays a slave even when brought into a "free" state, what is to stop someone from bringing slaves anywhere they want and setting up a plantation or slave-manned factory?

The situation is similar to the one that led to the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Normally, states recognize marriages entered into in other states. So if one state has gay marriage, all those marriages would normally be good all over the country. A number of law professors argued that this had to be so and I suspect many courts would have looked favorably on the argument.

In order to stop that, Congress passed (and Bill Clinton signed) a law saying a gay marriage in one state did not have to be recognized in any other.

(And, no, I'm not saying slavery is like gay marriage. I just love irony.)

KDeRosa said...

See Roger is demonstrating a deep understanding of the decision that generalizes to other contexts.

There's also a parallel to Roe v. Wade if anyone can spot it.

J Allen said...

Because of my lack of connection to anything SLA, including the curriculum meetings, background knowledge, etc., of the students and staff, I don't really see how I could make a judgement on the work this student has done. While I understand your question, and I know that you'll say "Yes I can" because of the quote you lifted from their handbook and that they did put that student work in the handbook as an example, I'm not going to make a specific critique of other district handbooks/curriculum. I understand what your saying, but you are using one example to paint a broad picture of pbl. I know, I know...read the other blog posts. I'll get to them in time.
I will say, although we will probably disagree on more than just pbl, I have added you to my Google Reader so that you can provoke my thinking. Good luck. I'll be back :)

Brett said...

I'm learning a ton from everyone's comments - both the pros and cons of pbl.

Here are some thoughts from the recent comments:

lastly, it is terribly inefficient to have students learn the wrong discoveries before having to relearn the right ones.

I don't believe that it is necessarily terribly inefficient to have students experience this process, as long as have a chance to reflect, internalize, and learn their experience. Some of my most significant learning experiences have come from opportunities to unlearn previously conceived ideas that I had been unable or unwilling to understand or accept. While yes it might be "inefficient" at times when compared with telling them the answer or perspective, it can on the other hand lead to a deeper, more significant learning experience too. Sometimes the mistakes we make lead us to find the successes (read: learning) we wouldn't otherwise have found. Thomas Edison's quote about the light bulb and failing 10,000 ways seems to apply here.

Supposedly, the purpose of the exercise was for the student to development a deep understanding of the issue. That didn't happen.

I also think it is difficult to assess the outcome of the example you used in your blog post with the knowledge at hand. We have no idea where that student was in his knowledge and abilities prior to this learning activity. Roger could demonstrate an ability to apply the concepts of Dred Scott to other situations probably because of prior knowledge and experiences. For the student of the example, the learning outcome they demonstrated might represent just as impressive a cognitive jump if we had an idea where this student began. Success of teaching/learning should also be considered in light of the progress made, not just in the outcome when compared with others. With additional learning experiences (like Roger has had) this student might very well be able to demonstrate the domain knowledge you are hoping for.

Just my 2 cents for today.

KDeRosa said...

I've responded to Chris's comment here

Roger Sweeny said...

Aw, I'm blushing.

In 11th and 12th grade, I had a 2-year American History course taught by two very good teachers. One of the things we did was dueling interpretations of history.

We would read two professional pieces taking "opposite" sides on some issue like "Was the New Deal a Success?"

I'm pretty sure it helped us learn specific facts. You had to know a lot of specific facts to follow the articles and to participate in class discussion and argument. And you got a certain amount of practice "putting the facts together."

On the other hand, my memory says that the discussion was often superficial, just repeating the points the authors had made. The class consensus was usually, "X makes some good points. Y makes some good points. The truth is somewhere in the middle."

Later, as I learned more, I have often come to the conclusion that the truth is actually out on one end, perhaps more extreme than either of the authors, or that it is something neither of them has considered.

To answer most historical questions, you need theories of how the world works. You need a worked out psychology, economics, etc. None of us had that, and it is probably unrealistic to expect that of high school students (though they all have unexamined, implicit, ideas of psychology, economics, etc.)

So I'm not sure what you can expect of high school students.

Tracy W said...

While yes it might be "inefficient" at times when compared with telling them the answer or perspective, it can on the other hand lead to a deeper, more significant learning experience too.

This raises the important question of how often does learning the wrong things lead to a deeper, more significant learning experience? And how often do kids just stay stuck on the wrong thing?

If a school is going to use discovery teaching, I think it needs very carefully prepared questions and assignments in order to drastically increase the chances of the student experiencing this "deeper, more significant learning experience" and unless the school has an infallible way of ensuring that the student will experience this "deeper, more significant learning experience", it needs a backup plan just in case the experience doesn't happen.

Sometimes the mistakes we make lead us to find the successes (read: learning) we wouldn't otherwise have found. Thomas Edison's quote about the light bulb and failing 10,000 ways seems to apply here.

On the other hand, to quote Newton "If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants".

The reason humanity has learnt so much is that we don't start out from scratch every single time, instead each of us builds on past knowledge.

Brett said...

and unless the school has an infallible way of ensuring that the student will experience this "deeper, more significant learning experience", it needs a backup plan just in case the experience doesn't happen.

I agree - we always need a backup plan with any strategy for teaching because I don't believe there is an "infallible way" to ensure we reach every single student with a meaningful learning experience. Inquiry-based learning is one method that can be used, among many.

I certainly am not an expert an inquiry-based learning, but I believe well-designed inquiry-based activities can actually take advantage of the "knowledge of the giants" you refer to.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with both of your points, even though we may disagree on how those they reflect on the validity of inquiry-based learning.

Tracy W said...

I certainly am not an expert an inquiry-based learning, but I believe well-designed inquiry-based activities can actually take advantage of the "knowledge of the giants" you refer to.

I actually mostly agree with you. I strongly suspect that it would be possible to develop a good-quality inquiry-based curriculum along the same way as Direct Instruction was developed (eg careful presentation of the material, well-designed inquiries that build on each other, back-up plans for when the learning didn't happen like DI has).

I just haven't run across such a curriculum yet. And I do think that many times poor outcomes from inquiry-based learning are excused in an ad-hoc fashion by talking about the possibility of deep understanding or the importance of kids learning how to fail, rather than by going back and re-designing the curriculum so as to increase the odds of the students learning whatever they were expected to learn.

Schools and researchers should be as demanding of people who design inquiry-based learning curriculae as of those who design DI curriculae.

Fannah Heldman said...

I'm a student at SLA. I don't know anything about pedagogy or whatnot, but in my opinion, SLA is the best school in Philadelphia and all I know is that I'm learning.

By the way, the student who wrote that letter is female. Please adjust your pronouns accordingly.

KDeRosa said...

So when you say you're learning do you mean you're learning more, less, or about the same as the girl who wrote the Dred Scott letter?

Fannah Heldman said...

Well, I'd say I'm learning more or less the same. Perhaps my background is different than others in my history class, so I came in with more knowledge, but we had a fabulous teacher and all learned a hell of a lot if we payed attention.

KDeRosa said...

Fair enough. I'd like to hear your opinion after you've completed your first college level history course which should provide a bit more perspective.