Hedging on science

Otto in “The War on Science” complains that politicians and journalists hedge when addressing issues on which scientists are nearly unanimous. For example, if 95% of scientists support the position that man (woman) has influenced climate than proposing that scientists differ on the topic of global warming my be technically accurate, but misleading. The scientific community regards the question as resolved.

I agree with Otto. Having taken this position, I noticed a related issue in my own work that might seem, at least on the surface, as being a contradiction. My wife and I have long written a textbook intended to prepare preservice and practicing teachers to effectively use technology in K12 classrooms. One distinction I have made between our textbook (and what I think textbooks in general should do) and what I describe as trade books (books advocating a position on educational practice – Teach Like a Pirate, Flip your classroom, Making, etc.) is the commitment to offer both sides of certain controversies. For example, does coding develop computational thinking (e.g., problem-solving skill)? Is learner-controlled inquiry superior to direct instruction?

Am I hedging in my approach even though I criticize politicians and journalists for hedging on what science has determined?

I think the situations are different. One thing Otto notes is that few politicians or journalists have the capacity to understand the positions taken. Few have a science background. Few make the effort to actually investigate the evidence offered by those taking different positions at the primary source level. Few have a credible rationale for why positions differ beyond noting that the conclusions different individuals reach are inconsistent?

I don’t think it arrogant to claim I have the expertise to comment on the research offering competing positions. This is what my professional training required and my practice involved. I have reviewed and in some cases authored some of the primary source content I describe. I also believe I have a logical rationale for why most evidence in support of competing positions appears on the surface to be contradictory.

An example – problem-based learning

A number of the most prominent educational psychologists have reviewed the research on problem-based learning (and other types of what I would describe as inquiry learning) and come to the conclusion that quality comparisons of such techniques with direct instruction conclude that direct instruction is superior. I cite one such summary below – mostly because the title of the paper offers a flavor of the findings.

Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J. & Clark, R.E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

This position might be considered akin to the pro-climate change position.

However, I do think are there specific studies demonstrating the efficacy of problem-based learning (one citation follows). I have read these studies and accept the quality of the methodology. The data generated in research must be interpreted by considering the methodology producing that data.

Wirkala. C. & Kuhn, D. (2011). Problem-Based Learning in K–12 Education: Is it Effective and How does it achieve its effects?, American Educational Research Journal, 48, 1157-1186.

How can the results of the general summary and results of specific studies that contradict the general summary be reconciled? It seems quite possible that common attempts to implement inquiry learning may be less productive than direct instruction. Perhaps certain topics and probably certain variations of an inquiry method may represent reasonable exceptions. The rationale in the Kuhn research (note the phrase “how does it achieve its effects”) makes sense. Kuhn exposes learners to a problem and allows them to struggle with it for a bit. This may have a cognitive advantage because it forces the learner to use existing knowledge to try to solve the problem (activating what the learner already knows) and also provides a context for any information that may then be provided. Kuhn then uses some direct instruction (not nearly as much as is used in the direct instruction condition). One way to describe the advantages might be that activation and context allow better processing of this content even though far less time is spent in presenting and discussing this content in traditional ways.

I would argue that an appreciation of both the general outcome and the specific example have value. It should not be assumed that any form of student controlled inquiry will be more effective than direct instruction. However, the consideration of certain topics and with certain “scaffolded” approaches may be uniquely productive.

The question of whether man has contributed to climate change is a little different. This question is really a matter of yes or no (arguing to what degree is a variant of yes).


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One of the challenges of self-publishing a higher ed textbook is not having the company reps visiting and going from office to office promoting your book. Our textbook appears to be mainly purchased by individuals who are likely educational professionals when the book is intended for use as a classroom resource. We can tell that this is the case from the pattern of purchases. Purchases do not bunch at the beginning of what would be the beginning of a semester. We appreciate the interest of every reader, but we also think writing for professionals is a little different from creating a resource for group use.

We have decided to try one of Amazon’s marketing strategies to get our book in the hands of educators during the time period when they might be considering textbooks for the Fall. This is a strategy intended as a substitute for the book company rep.

Our Amazon page

The “countdown” strategy:


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Free? Relationship to ads and data collection

This eSchool News piece (Student data mining is a problem) got me thinking about the issues of ads and data collection as they relate to our use of online tools and information resources. Parents and educators have been primed to be concerned with the ill effects of ads and data collection from these services. This is not a new issue – remember the controversy over ads in Channel One.

This is an important issue, but one I think needs to be considered on a deeper level. There seems great pressure from the education community for “free”. What bothers me about this position is the lack of appreciation for the provider. The cost of generating and providing the resource is not recognized or appreciated. The eSchool article focuses on the concern and not why the provider feels the need to collect data or offer ads.

Making money from the education of children is demonized, but why not categorize the value of content and service generation in the same we categorize the payment of educators. Quality deserves compensation.

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Evidence – still searching

In an earlier post, I proposed a type of debate considering whether Coding or Argumentation would be the best addition to the K-12 curriculum. Using some of the core ideas of argumentation, I proposed that I would take on this challenge using the approach of identifying what might be the reasons, evidence, and counter-arguments for each position. I have found it relatively easy to identify reasons for either curricular emphasis, but it is more difficult than one might think identifying the evidence for popular reasons.

I have begun working on the evidence for the reasons offered by supporters of coding. Certain reasons are not that challenging – yes there seems to be evidence that there are job opportunities as computer scientists. However, the “coding for all movement” would seem to require something more. The notion of computational thinking as a way to approach a wide variety of life issues might be one such reason. To offer this as a sound reason or to refute it, I would assume one should be able to point to solid research. The “more needs to be done” thing just does not cut it for me. I think you should generate evidence first and then argue for changes to the curriculum. If this is not the approach, you end up chasing one fad after another.

I have been attempting to identify research that would offer support. For example, the following paper has generated some attention (I recognize the authors so the findings would have some credibility for me).

Grover, S., & Pea, R. (2013). Computational Thinking in K–12: A Review of the State of the Field. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 38-43.

I did not find much. I abstracted the one paragraph that would seem to bear on the specific thing I was looking for.

Cognitive aspects of children and novices learning computational concepts were studied extensively in the 1980s—issues such as development of thinking skills (Kurland, Pea, Clement, & Mawby, 1986); debugging (Pea, Soloway, & Spohrer, 1987); problems with transfer (Clements & Gullo, 1984; Pea & Kurland, 1984); use of appropriate scaffolds for successful transfer (Klahr & Carver, 1988), to name a few. That body of literature should be brought to bear on 21st-century CT research.

I have read the studies cited here. In fact, I use several in writing my own analysis. This may sound like sour grapes, but I was annoyed when a previous edition of my textbook was criticized for referencing work that was dated. I pride myself on the work I invest in researching the topics I write about and I thought this was the type of criticism offered by those who look at dates and are not that well informed regarding the actual research. This issue aside, I continue to argue that the research on the transfer value from research on K-12 students learning LOGO is still the best available and does not make a strong case for the type of experiences students were experiencing.

Still searching for a solid body of work justifying the concept of computational thinking.

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Newsela Paired Texts

One of the weaknesses in implementing many popular instructional tactics (e.g., problem-based learning, project-based learning, argumentation activities, WebQuests) is getting from an understanding of the tactic to a specific activity for classroom implementation that is relevant to a curriculum need. This is why resources such as Newsela paired texts provides such a valuable starting point for educators.

Newsela, an online service focused on the developing reading skills, offers a service suited to this educational goal. Among the resources offered are paired texts. Newsela locates two online sources related to a current topic. Each pair of texts is associated brief background comments, discussion topics and a writing prompt.


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The shortening of the long tail

Consideration of whether or not technology hardware will serve educational ends as a production device as well as a consumption device has often been a flash point. Most recently, this topic has again focused on the iPad with some early tablet adopters now making the decision to move toward hardware with keyboards. It is obviously possible to write on a tablet, but the practicality of doing without a keyboard has come into question. Ease of use may encourage too much consumption and not enough production.

The promise of using technology to involve more of us as producers has existed for some time. With the introduction of more opportunities for online sharing, we knew something different was possible. This was a heady time with the promise of changes to commerce, politics, and education. It seemed worthy of a new label. Most would point to Tim O’Reilly’s term “Web 2.0”. As an alternative I liked the use of “Read/Write” web. Henry Jenkin’s “participatory web” also creates the right tone.

I think we are now backing away from this vision. The long tail is shrinking because of apathy and tools that offer content linking as a substitute for production. Content generation has given way to Facebook and Twitter linking. There are fewer bloggers and a substitution of Twitter discovery for the use of RSS. This trend has given rise to the development of Nuzzel which basically counts the number of times those you follow on Twitter link to the same address. If the individuals noting the value of a particular page in their tweets did not immediately get your attention, perhaps the Nuzzel totals will. For me, the value of Nuzzel is not the list generated from those I follow, but the lists generated by other users which tap into a different group.

I wish the educators who are big into promoting coding, but do not code themselves or who argue that generative student projects are valuable, but do not generate content themselves would think about this situation. Educators should have more to say about their practice.

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Google Spaces

Google just released a new social media service – Google Spaces. I am reluctant to go all in on Google products because I have been burned too many times. I find services interesting, put in my time developing something, and then the service is abandoned. This the Google way and Google users should know this pattern, but there is also the issue of promoting a Google service and then finding you have advocated that others spend their time before it is clear Google is really serious.


So, again, this service looks interesting and worth a look. My first paragraph should offer fair warning. If you would like to check out a simple resource, here is a link for a simple space I have created requesting input on experience with formatting for Kindle publication. You do not have to be interested in the topic to take a look.

My initial interpretation is that Spaces offers a way to generate a conversation around a topic. If my interpretation is accurate there should be some value in this approach. My immediate reaction is that this could be an improvement on the popular Twitter chat which I see as hampered by the limited commenting that Twitter allows.

As I understand the present situation, Spaces is not a Google for Education app. I would guess this will change as the services seem well suited to posting questions, content for discussion. This will likely change.


Here is what I am missing about what Google is thinking. When you create a Space you invite access. These are the options. Why Facebook? Why not use Circles which I thought was a very interesting and useful approach to controlling access? Sending a link has limitations when it comes to controlling access. The link can be easily shared without consent of the personal creating the Space.

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Women in CS

My Spring class has just concluded. One of the final issues we consider is that of equity issues related to technology use. A subcategory of this topic large gender difference in “interest” in computer science (coding).

On a descriptive level, this equity gap is easy to demonstrate. The stats on participating in AP programming courses, attrition from a college CS major, graduate program enrollment, etc. demonstrate the size of the gap. Explanations and remedies (if this is even the appropriate term) are far more difficult.

I thought this post from the Google blog was informative and shared it with the students I work with. The focus is very much on the culture in which programmers work and how this culture is perceived. The approach taken by Carnegie Mellon is highlighted. CMU enrolls 40% females in contrast to the average 14%.

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Writing to learn

Writing to learn is a theme I have long championed. Actually, I have moved to “Authoring to learn” and “Tutoring to learn” as ways to expand the dated notion of writing to learn to include multiple media and the known advantages to the tutor and tutee of explaining and interacting to learn. Technology offers so many opportunities when externalizing what a learner knows and is willing to learn through authoring and tutoring.

Here is a recent Edutopia article describing the learning benefits of “low-stakes writing” as ways to implement writing to learn. Interpret these ideas within my authoring and tutoring to learn and see if the combination offers insights into potential technology-based projects.

Link for low stakes writing prompts (see pdf)

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Evernote and Google Doc

I probably make more use of Google docs and Evernote than any other apps. The announcement that the two could now be integrated seemed like a good thing for me. I must say I am a bit disappointed because the integration allows you to open docs within an Evernote note, but not the other way around. The potential of working from notes and snippets to a written product is appealing, but I use docs and Evernote in the opposite way. I write in docs and collect and organize resources in Evernote. The direction of sharing goes the wrong way for my approach.


The integration adds the Google docs symbol to the menubar for an Evernote note.


The Google drive icon opens a window allowing a Drive file to be accessed.

Perhaps you integrate content in Evernote. If so, this method combining Evernote and Docs may be helpful.


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