Learning by Making Rockets & Robots

Learning by Making
American kids should be building rockets and robots, not taking standardized tests.
A great article in Slate about how students are being educated.

I wish our state would have the Maker Faire sometime (also when I’m not at school).

Arizona isn’t a state too crazy about standardized tests, although I am always happy when I hear new team members saying how happy they are that they are here, and not obsessing over some test over the other (or at the Science Olympiad club, where the competition is primarily who can cram the most…)

Another good read would be The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins.

Ugh, Texas is the worst when it comes to standardized tests. We just switched to an even crazier system, and it’s apparently an even more unbalanced system. So I agree completely this.

i go to Technical high school and still you see the standardized tests taking president over the education in the technical areas. i had a talk with a student in pluming about our standardized test, the MCAS, i took this test as he did and we both took the SAT’s recently and the SAT’s did not reflect what we experienced in the MCAS nor did either test judge our skills in the professions we would take part in the rest of our lives. he made a few valid points about how our school should be judged on how many students can pass the certifications in there given technical areas. so we logically thought the technical or vocational high schools should not judged on test scores but send there best students to a contest that measures skills.there is an organization that lets you compete in the technical areas at a district, state, national and world level. this organization is Skills USA and i think if technical high schools were judged on this it would be a more accurate gauge of progress in schools. this year i partook in the contest and at districts i was amazed from the test scores. at states the competition was hard and i was blown away with some of the skills my fellow students possessed. unfortunetly my team was the only one to win gold at states (in mechatronics) but using the data my school under preformed in every category but my own. this means we should really beef up the shop education right? wrong we scored good on MCAS and that seems to be where the focus is still currently at. with the states mind set my program should receive more money, we do need the funding but using the data about skills usa the rest of the school needs it more. flawed system?

What percentage of a students education do you believe should be spent learning hands on skills in High School? What would you cut? I see a lot of attacking of standardized tests, but why would schools put such an emphasis on “Standardized tests” if there wasn’t some value for someone in those?

Often we push to incentives performance. In order to give out the incentives, we need a measure. Someone decides on the measure, and then incentives are tied to that measure. Folks that are good at “playing the game” may work to get the best incentive as opposed to the less measureable goals.

I think the focus on standardized testing is a resultant of this behaviour. There are several analogies that can be drawn to business. In bothe cases I think you can show short term improvements in the metrics and long term issues arising from an overfocus on those same metrics.

I would love to see more hands on experience, but I would caution folks to be careful about what you might take the place of.

I’m not a huge standardized test fan, and I agree that hands-on learning can be beneficial. However, I believe this article is fundamentally misrepresenting the situation it’s critiquing.

First off, the sample is not a science question, it’s a reading comprehension question. Fortunately, it’s actually written so as to benefit both science-lovers who can use common sense to decipher the answer and readers who can simply read it. (Contrary to the article, you can easily know both the answer and the purpose of a microscope from reading Caution #4 and sentence 1, respectively.) Nor is there anything wrong with a 60% incorrect rate. Too little variance in correct-response rates makes it hard to students’ actual levels and areas of growth. Scores are comparative.

Hands-on learning is certainly helpful in conjunction with theory. But as a substitute? The monkeys that typed Hamlet didn’t actually learn iambic pentameter. The problem isn’t chiefly one of testing students’ grasp of theory, but of finding additional incentives for schools directed towards teaching problem solving and practical understanding.

But as IKE said, be careful what you replace. Standardized tests aren’t perfect, and they can and are being improved. Educational policy on incentives is not perfect and similarly needs work. But nothing (except life) can test everything you need to know. But standardized exams certainly do test some of it. First 9 questions I randomly chose.

I think the issue, at least the way I see it, is that standardized tests cause teachers to teach to the tests. So instead of getting a broad education that allows you to decide upon a career, you learn how to answer a specific multiple choice question that you’ll never see again. So the measure of aptitude is actually tremendously skewed. While I agree that hands on learning shouldn’t replace standardized testing, something needs to replace it. Too often the focus of school is passing tests instead of giving kids the tools they need to become productive, happy members of society (research can be productive, so theory is in included in that). That’s what needs to change.

My wife is an executive in our local school system and I get these types of questions all the time. We (in this forum) are engineers or engineer-want-to-bes so I look at the education infrastructure as a system.

1 - Without negative (corrective) feedback the system is open loop and can run away. So I think testing of some kind is absolutely necessary, how else can we get feedback? And the larger the sample (the whole state of TX rather than one school or one school system) the better.

2 - There are awesome teachers out there who are hampered by “teaching to the test”, no doubt. And I would say that the great majority of teachers mean well and work hard. But the reality is that there are (more than a few) poor, under-qualified and/or un-caring teachers as well. The great teachers are under-appreciated and the awful teachers are difficult to detect/remove.

3 - It is a dis-service to high school students to NOT test them and then subject them to the college entrance testing (AP, ACT, SAT etc). The reality is that students MUST compete within a standardized testing format at some point.

4 - AP teachers must “teach to the test” or what is the point?

5 - Being an awesome teacher is one thing, being aware of the content necessary to prepare a student for the next class (like PreCal before Cal) or a college entrance exam is quite another. It is too much to ask of an individual teacher. So I think teaching from common outlines to make sure common material is covered (but taught in a manner chosen by the teacher) is a good thing. BTW, this is what TX is trying to do this year - switch to EOY course-specific type exams and a common course outline.

6 - Newb teachers LOVE “teaching to the test” until they begin to develop unique methods and materials. Though they intend to become awesome teachers, it takes time. Thorough outlines and mentor teachers are a great help the first few years.

Well, that is my 2 cents.

With all due respect that is a parent’s job, not the school. A high school teacher only sees a student like 4.5 hours a week (in a group setting), not enough time to impart basic personality traits (though they can reinforce them).

The real deal is that we are blaming teachers while expecting them to replace parents in some areas. The greater crisis is with parents, teachers do their job pretty well in my opinion.

I read this and laughed :smiley: I’m in my school’s SciOly team too, and that’s basically how we roll :slight_smile:

As much as I dislike standardized testing, honestly, what can you do? You really do need some way to measure stuff… And really, I don’t believe in grades (you know, those letters and numbers that get on your transcript)… at least in my school they feel so meaningless since the teachers end up flooding everything with filler busy work so that everyone (it seems) can get A’s.

My parents did the opposite. :yikes: Can you say “homeschooled”? (As I got further along, I ran into more subjects I couldn’t learn as well at home. Homeschoolers tend to run into that, and groups have classes in that sort of thing.)

However, I did have to do a standardized test each year. It’s a way to track progress. If used just as a way to track progress, standardized tests are all well and good. If used as a tool to judge performance on the other hand… Well, then you start getting the “teaching to the test” and the reports of test-rigging by teachers. Guess what the politicians and upper-level school administrations are doing these days? Yep, judging performance based on standardized tests.

I think the main thing, though, is not to let academics get in the way of a good education (more than necessary, that is–if you’re failing classes, you may need the good education from the academics!)

While I agree that many parents are pushing their jobs onto teachers, at the same point, school is about taking an idiot kid and giving them the knowledge they need to be well-rounded adults. If that wasn’t the case, I’d have skipped English and History entirely, because beyond making me well rounded, those classes are useless to me.

I categorize AP and SAT teams separate from state mandated standardized testing. My comments are all in reference to the TAKS test. And the TAKS test is built for the lowest common denominator. Here’s a fun solution: if you can pass AP English, you are exempt from the TAKS English test. That would solve about 90% of the problem right there.

State mandated testing bothers me primarily because it is also used as a gauge for teacher quality. I will admit we need to ensure quality teachers and that the students are learning. The issue is that a student’s score on a test is not indicative of the value added by their experience with that teacher.

Our educational system is set up in such a way that we expect everyone to learn content at the same rate. Addition: 2 weeks, Subtraction: 2 weeks, Multiplication: 1 week, Division: 3 weeks… People don’t work that way and, as a result, we end up with students who aren’t dumb but just learn a little slower than others being told they are bad at math (apply subject of choice here but I like math for my example). Now, we add in that maybe I’m 85% confident with Addition, 75% with Subtraction… what chance do I have of being good at Division and Multiplication? None. So I’m already behind. But I can probably pass the tests enough to get by. So I pass my tests one year, but remember, I’m still hazy on the core concepts. Now I’m going to build on those next year. It’s a disaster. I fail the test. This failure looks bad on my teacher who is teaching me the new material which is not what I’m struggling with at all. How is it their fault that the teacher prior didn’t adequately prepare me?

If that example was confusing, would you build a building on a foundation that was only 70% complete? What about a second floor on top of the first floor when the first floor is only 78% complete (on top of the foundation being only 70% complete)?

That’s what our educational system does currently. I’m not smart enough to figure out the answer right now… but I can tell you that it’s outright foolish to penalize schools or teachers for students not understanding the foundational concepts of the material being taught if that was someone else’s responsibility. I will, however, suggest that we consider testing become differential, concepts test at the beginning of the year to determine where the teacher should focus their efforts and then students (and teachers) are evaluated based on the value added during that year. Yes, still an issue with teaching to the test but it rewards students and teachers who actually improve things rather than preserving the status quo.

Presumably you are going into engineering… English is important, a good chunk of my job involves communicating with other people effectively. I won’t mention why history is important because I am biased in that I really love history as a subject.

Presumably you are going into engineering… English is important, a good chunk of my job involves communicating with other people effectively. I won’t mention why history is important because I am biased in that I really love history as a subject.

Well, personally, I love being well rounded, and I like when everyone else around me is well rounded. It lowers the possibility of history repeating itself, allows for intelligent cross-curriculum discourse, and makes enjoying both works of fiction and natural creations much more invigorating. But I don’t need that to be an engineer, if all I’m gonna do is engineering. And that’s my point; being a successful member of society means being able to do a job, but also means knowing the context of the job. If I was just studying engineering, I wouldn’t want me to vote on the future of this nation. The problem is, as you mentioned, that the results of standardized tests are not used correctly to further that goal.

Well, personally, I love being well rounded, and I like when everyone else around me is well rounded. It lowers the possibility of history repeating itself, allows for intelligent cross-curriculum discourse, and makes enjoying both works of fiction and natural creations much more invigorating. But I don’t need that to be an engineer, if all I’m gonna do is engineering. And that’s my point; being a successful member of society means being able to do a job, but also means knowing the context of the job. If I was just studying engineering, I wouldn’t want me to vote on the future of this nation.

Many people who go to school to become engineers don’t actually end up doing pure engineering work, my dad for example was a process engineer but now is a US patent Agent. Especially if you want to work at a start-up or even in today’s job market. I can guarantee you that any engineering company will take an engineer that has good communication skills (as well as meeting job requirements) over the most brilliant engineer in the world. Engineering is very collaborative and requires engineers to communicate effectively with both other engineers and non-engineers. Furthermore if you don’t have the skills to sell your idea to your manager, it won’t get implemented in most cases.

Don’t let yourself lapse into the faulty “I’m an Engineer, I don’t need English” mentality I see far too often with students and classmates.

I could go on and on about stories my dad and numerous guest speakers (usually VP of Engineering at various companies) have told me about how important communication is to being a successful engineer and competitive job applicant.

Makes you a better conversationalist though… ;o)

But would you not panic if it was the first comprehensive test that you had EVER taken? I totally agree about the AP/TAKS English thing.

Agreed - gauging teacher quality is difficult/impossible. We should definitely prefer differential or incremental comparisons. But (it seems to me) other teachers can quickly identify bad teachers. I wonder if one could leverage that somehow, maybe some sort of peer evaluation system…

Okay, I think you guys aren’t understanding me at all. I agree with you guys. An engineer who thinks he only needs engineering is gonna be a crappy engineer. But state standardized tests don’t encourage that kind of thinking. They cater to the lowest possible standard.

Those tests are not really targeted towards you or your AP/GT-ish teachers. Like my kids (both EEs now) you could probably sleep through TAKS and passed easily. The AP classes teach to the AP test and students in the GT classes can handle the TAKS w/o preparation. Plus AP and GT teachers are normally the cream of the crop, as are SPED and K-3 teachers. In the middle there are a lot of students under-served by a system w/o sensible quality controls.

Okay, I think you guys aren’t understanding me at all. I agree with you guys. An engineer who thinks he only needs engineering is gonna be a crappy engineer. But state standardized tests don’t encourage that kind of thinking. They cater to the lowest possible standard.

Glad to hear that. Just wanted to make sure, you would be surprised how many people I have met who think like that, even in my engineering design/drafting classes I had people complaining about having to learn how to free hand sketch with perspective.

I agree about standardized tests however, having personal experience with charter schools, home school organizations, “regular schools”, and middle college high school I would say that about the only thing that is the same among all of them is standardized tests. It may be far from perfect but its the best tool at gauging what material is being taught across such large variation of instruction and school type. Quite literally it standardizes the school systems so that judgement can be made about the classes. Just think about it could you imagine having to deal with a different standard for every school as a person from college admissions. It would be insane, you would need work samples from all applicants and so on. It is necessary, however like all things that are “one-size-fits-all” it is adequate for all but perfect for no one.