AN OVERVIEW OF THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN TANZANIA: History, Reforms, and Research-Based Recommendations for Improvement.


This small handbook covers the history of the education system in Tanzania, the major policy reforms that have taken place since the country’s independence, and at the end, the handbook offers research-based recommendations that the country can pursue to change its education system to meet the needs of all children. As you may know, there have been numerous discussions regarding the successes and failures of the education system in Tanzania. Continue reading “AN OVERVIEW OF THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN TANZANIA: History, Reforms, and Research-Based Recommendations for Improvement.”

Improving equity and quality of education in Tanzania


In this presentation I discuss educational philosophies the Tanzanian education system has pursued since the country’s independence. Tanzania inherited the British System of Education. In its early years, the country pursued the Excellence Model of Education. The Excellence Model of education was entirely based on a bizarre interpretation of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Early educationists believed in the survival of the fittest as being the main tenet of the Darwinian Theory. Thus, survival of the fittest become the heart and soul of their education philosophy. The country pursued this philosophy (educating only the best) of education until late 1990s. Continue reading “Improving equity and quality of education in Tanzania”

Socially Balanced Equity Education


Growing up I always thought I needed to work at a lucrative job and make tones of money so that I can escape poverty. As a kid, I thought being rich was the best thing ever. Growing up in a poverty stricken neighborhood, I have seen and experienced the real problems associated with poverty. And, I tell you, poverty isn’t fun. Continue reading “Socially Balanced Equity Education”

What ails the Tanzanian Education System? The GPA vs Division Debate.


Yesterday, I re-read a letter  Mr. Rakesh Rajani  wrote to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda. The letter was titled “Commission to Investigate Causes of Poor Form IV Results” and dated May 13th, 2013.   The letter sparked my interest on recent development regarding education reporting in Tanzania. A few weeks ago, Professor Ndalichako decided to remove the use of gpa in calculating students’ results when reporting exam scores. In arriving to her decision, Professor Ndalichako (the current Minister of Education) reported to have used sound scientific evidence. I quote “”Yes, we need change, but change should be informed and backed by scientific grounds.” Continue reading “What ails the Tanzanian Education System? The GPA vs Division Debate.”

Does Affect Impact Student Achievement?


Background: Educators are experiencing undue pressure to perform in education accountability driven by evidence-based instruction. The pressure to show adequate student performance on standardized tests causes many educators to allocate a larger portion of their classroom instructional time to test preparation instead of teaching higher-order learning and thinking skills (Tapia & Marsh, 2004). The shift in teaching time allocation also causes educators to sacrifice other crucial teaching and learning components believed to Continue reading “Does Affect Impact Student Achievement?”

Chimney Tops, Smoky Mountains National Park


There were many good moments in Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. However, this one was among the best. And the best days were many. I do not have a good recollection of the events of each day that we spent at the Great Smoky Mountains. I would say, this was either the third or fourth day there. Each day we took a walk in the wild side to witness the beauty of nature. On this particular day, we went to climb and see the famous Chimney Tops Trail.

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This trail is designated as strenuous. Therefore, we packed our rucksacks lightly with some juice, dry fruits, and a sandwich for the Pili-Pili. The trail is located half-way up the mountain on the singularly road to Cherokee, South Carolina. Once you pack your vehicle, the trail start slowly by descending to the bottom of the river. It was a beautiful sight and hugely deceiving of the long and uphill graded hike to come.

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Once you cross a few bridges, steep and thoughtfully placed steps starts. There are 256 steps. Pili counted them out of boredom. The trail keeps going up, up, and up, and up again. Meandering like a giant river approaching the ocean. It’s not the hike that brings hordes of people here. It’s the amazing views on the way up and at the top of the chimneys. I know the pictures that you see here don’t give justice to the actual views there. The 2.3 miles up and 2.3 miles down was joyous as anything i have never done in a few years. 

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Big Results Now: A Simple Solution to a Complex Problem


The tables have turned. Or am I seeing the work of a magician. Enough with the jokes! Seriously, Tanzania has been the laughing stock in East Africa with regards to its education system for a while. We all know that change do take time. Especially, meaningful and lasting change. Change  in education doesn’t happen overnight (read here, here, and here). And quick fixes have unintended consequences (read here). However, I am happy to say that Tanzania has found a magic formula to raise student achievement in the shortest amount of time through its Big Results Now program.

Two years ago, the failure rates at the primary, secondary and high school levels were up the roofs (read here). The 2012 examination results for secondary schools was the lowest in history. However, in less than a year of BIG RESULTS NOW, we are seeing the highest jump in exam results never seen anywhere in the world of education. Has the system really changed? Or is it a mirage?

What I believe is this, for change to happen, underlying causes needs to be addressed. Has the education system in Tanzania addressed the challenges it faces? Challenges such as lack of teachers, lack of quality instruction in the classrooms, teacher absenteeism, lack of teaching resources, lack of laboratories and lab materials for science related courses. In my sane mind, I can’t believe that all these challenges have been addressed in less than a year. Unless you believe in miracles, of which I don’t, something really shady is in the works here.

As they say in Swahili “kuongeza ukubwa wa magoli” is not a genuine solution to this problem. The problems facing the education system in Tanzania are multi-faceted and needs multi-faceted solutions to address them. Quick fixes, No. They will just create a spillover effect. What I see is a disaster in the making. The consequences of which, will be difficult to remediate with simple and quick fixes.

Smoky Mountains National Park


This year we decided to chart a new course for our family summer vacation. We decided to take a path less traveled. Once you have been to the Sunshine State too many times, it becomes less difficult to choose to go elsewhere. I have no complaints with my vacations in Florida. Florida is always going to be the best destination for a summer vacation. With all the amusement parks, serene beaches, and warm weather. I love the place and I could visit there anytime. However, July’s Florida heat can be a turd too much to bear sometimes.

As we were trying to expose our daughter to other forms of summer travel adventures this year. We decided to climb the mountains. The decision was easy. While there, we saw some of the best kept secret places in the Southeastern Mountains Ranges of the United States. Gatlinburg is at the base of Smoky Mountain National Park. Next to it, is Pigeon Forge, the land of Dolly Patton. While there, you can do just anything touristy like amusement parks, you can scare your pants off by visiting many of the Ripley’s scare places or you can grab a cabin in the mountains and live a completely quiet week all to yourself. We chose the latter.

Here are a few pictures from my nature hikes at the Laurel Falls and Clingmans Dome. Enjoy.

 

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Laurel Falls Nature Trail

Laurel Falls Nature Trail

Course Evaluation


Hello everyone. It was great to have you in my course this semester. I hope you enjoyed the experience. In my quest to make the course more enjoyable to you, I would like your input. Additionally, I hope you will find a way to use the information you learned in this course in the near future to make your lives better. As we are approaching the end of the semester, I would like for you to share your opinion about the course by clicking this link. It is my hope that you will take this opportunity seriously and that you will offer genuine suggestions to improve the course.

Here are three things I would like you to respond to:

1) what did you like about the course (think about pacing (too slow, too fast, just about right), information, field trips, out of class activities, in class activities and so forth)?

2) what did you not like?

3) what could I have done differently?

This is completely anonymous. Feel free to express your opinion to help me improve students’ experiences in the course.

Good-luck and Happy Summer Y’all!!

 

 

The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis


The article entitled “The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis” by Mohr (1999) attempts to qualify qualitative study design as a rigorous and explicit method for impact analysis (impact evaluation purposes). In this article, Mohr discusses the problems facing qualitative methods when it is used to study impact. He asserts, impact it fundamentally is a causation type of a problem. Causation impact analysis is better evaluated if one uses a quantitative methodology. Mohr argues that the main issue here is based upon the definition of causality. The most accepted definition of causation is based solely on the counterfactual definition of causality. Therefore, if Y occurs, then, X must have occurred. This aligns perfectly with the quantitative methodology of impact evaluation. According to Mohr (1999), a more defensible version of the counter factual definition is called factual causation. Factual causation states that “X was caused by Y if and only if X and Y both occurred and, in the circumstances, if X had not occurred, then neither would Y” (Mohr, 1999; p. 71). As a result, causation is better established when variables are compared. Thus, causality is derived from the comparison of results from the experimental group to those in the control group. Without this base of combination of observations it would be impossible to determine the variance on the treatment variables. Hence, statistical analysis would not be possible.

Based on the counterfactual definition of causality it is impossible to use qualitative methodology to evaluate impact. To better determine impact, qualitative methods must rely on something other than evidence of counterfactual to establish causal inferences. Therefore it renders impossible for a qualitative methodology to show the concurrence of X and Y without the use of a treatment group and a control group that is prevalent in quantitative designs. However, Stricken (1976 as cited in Mohr, 1999) offer us an approach called the “modus operandi’ method which can be used to bypass the counterfactual definition of causality. The modus operandi method can be described as follows: it is an elimination process. For example, to demonstrate that treatment T has caused Y to occur, other possible causes of Y such as U, V, and W must be eliminated as contenders for causing T to occur through elimination. The modus operandi is commonly used in the daily works of professionals such as doctors, police, and investigators. Modus operandi does not meet the counterfactual definition of causality used in quantitative study designs. However, because of the modus operandi methods, qualitative study designs can be used to determine the programs impact using the elimination process to determine causal inferences. Therefore, no variables are needed to establish causation in qualitative designs because physical causality rather than factual causality does indeed produce compelling evidence for ascertaining the occurrence of T when Y occurred after all the other contenders have been eliminated. Thus, causal reasoning can be reliably used in qualitative designs to determine causal inferences in program and impact analysis.

I enjoyed reading this article because it offered me practical and useful insights in conceptualizing causality inferences. I have learned that the causation debate between researchers in quantitative design and those in qualitative design is based on the definition of causation. For the supporters of quantitative design, causation is defined by the counterfactual definition of causality. Thus, causation is determined by comparing two sets of variables (control and experimental values). On the other hand, the proponent in the qualitative design camp proves that causation can be established through the elimination process. The process of elimination is commonly used in our daily lives without comparisons and/or variables. I can relate this to my research. There are several similarities between my research design and the process of elimination described in this article. My research follows the quantitative design tradition, but it does not involve a control group. The causal inferences I can draw from my research design (single participant research design) are largely a result of better controls of the internal threats to validity rather than the comparison of results from the control group to that of the experimental group. There are no control groups in my proposed experimental design. Thus, as a researcher I plan to incorporate the useful, practical, beneficial insight, and steps of determining causal inferences discussed in this article.
Reference
Mohr, B. L. (1999). The qualitative method of impact analysis. American Journal of Evaluation, 20 (1), 69-84.

The One Size Fits All Assessment Model: A disastrous approach.


In this analysis, I will discuss the book review entitled “Computers, Curriculum, and Cultural Change (2rd ed.)” by Bonita Wilcox (2005). I will review the four types of literacy discussed in the book review and how to incorporate these literacies in instruction. Finally, I will conclude by discussing the lessons I learned from reading this article and how I will use some of the information in my praxis.

In her article, Wilcox reviews the book entitled “Differentiated Literacy Strategies for Student Growth and Achievement in Grades 7-12” by Gayle H. Gregory and Lin Kuzmich (2005). Ms. Wilcox begins here review with two fundamental questions: “Overwhelmed by student diversity? Too much content and too little time? I am sure that many educators can relate to that. We all are struggling to meet the needs of each and every student in our classrooms. Some of the needs we must meet to remain effective educators are student development, learning styles, learning preferences, and multiple intelligences”.  Ms. Wilcox goes on to state that student diversity is one of the biggest challenges for American educators in the 21st century classroom.  In their book, Gregory and Kuzmich (2005) suggest looking at these challenges through the lens of the four domains of literacy: functional, content, technological, and innovation/creative. Gregory and Kuzmich further suggest educators consider numerous differentiated learning methods while acknowledging that these methods have to be balanced against the time and resource constraints many educators face. To address these challenges, Gregory and Kuzmich offer several instructional strategies, assessment strategies, planning models, checklists, rubrics, and lesson plans based on current brain research and recommendations from prominent educators.

Gregory and Kuzmich believe, like most educators, that gathering and evaluating data is crucial in making well-informed decisions to improve learning. They also believe that diagnostic thinking must be done by teachers themselves since they work with and know all the students in their classroom. External testing and evaluation is not tailored to individual students and therefore does not offer the best diagnostic prescription for student development at the individual level. The use of differentiated instructional practices for specific learning styles, preferences, and multiple intelligences are discussed to address the functional and content area competence. These include flexible grouping, anticipation guides, SQ3R, graphic organizers (four corner, compare/contrast, and cross classification), choice boards, KWL charts, reciprocal teaching, and writing prompts. To meet the technological and innovative literacy challenges, Gregory and Kuzmich suggest best practices for promoting multidimensional thinking and multimedia production. These include useful websites for various content specific areas, search engines, search guides, website credibility measures, and some innovative methods including switch between work groups, kinds of text, and types of writing skills and media use.

In conclusion, this book review was very informative. I have learned many useful teaching and learning strategies that I will be utilizing in my daily praxis. Furthermore, it was very interesting to learn that most educators over-value the importance of external student testing and evaluation. In my view, this practice is not formative and does not help educators improve their teaching. The best diagnostic thinking is the one envisioned and implemented by the teachers themselves. This kind of test takes into consideration student diversity and can address challenges at the individual student level. The one size fits all assessment that we are currently using assumes that all students are the same.  In my opinion, this is an incorrect assumption.

 

 

 

 

Reference

Wilcox, B (2005). Computers, curriculum, and cultural change (2rd ed.), English Leadership Quarterly, 28(2): 12.

The Challenges of Curriculum Change: Lessons from Alberta, Canada


The article entitled “The Challenges of Curriculum Change” by Kent den Heyer (2013) discusses an educational initiative in Canada’s Alberta Province.  The purpose of the Initiative was to move from a knowledge-based curriculum to a skills- or competence-based curriculum. In this analysis, I will first discuss the author’s argument regarding curriculum change. In addition, I will discuss what is already known about change and how that can be used to facilitate the kind of change that officials in the Alberta Province sought to achieve. Finally, I will discuss the lessons I learned from reading this article.

Den Heyer starts the discussion by quoting a statement made by a 3rd year education student in his undergraduate course. He quotes, “I just want to know what I need to know; I didn’t want to have to think about it” (den Heyer, 2013).  This comment, den Heyer argues, suggests that the student did not necessarily value “thinking” as an end point in her education.  Instead, what she valued the most was the ability to complete tasks or skills.  Den Heyer goes on to discuss how this quote relates to the ability to affect change.  In order for change to occur, den Heyer suggests that we must first change the minds of the people responsible for implementing programs. In the example from Alberta, officials realized that there was a gap between the current curricula used in schools and the mission statement of the school system that promoted engagement, ethical citizenship, and entrepreneurship.  An educational initiative was put forth to change the curricula to match this mission statement.  However, changing how students were instructed would require more than just changing the curricula. It would also require convincing the program implementers (e.g. school administrators, teachers, etc.) on why the curriculum changes were needed.

            In the article, den Heyer reviews what is already known about initiatives for programmatic school change. Research findings consistently indicate that formal curricula changes have little discernible effect on changing classroom practices. We all know that classrooms are where the rubber meets the road. If little changes happens there, the curricula change we are envisioning will have very little impact on what students learn in the classroom. Den Heyer reminds us that curriculum theory is an important aspect of curriculum change when Unfortunately, however, most curriculum changes are politically based and have little to no educational theory behind them. These symbolic curriculum changes are used to signal that something is being done but in reality these moves have little transformative potential in improving student outcomes.

According to den Heyer (2013) official curriculum change and redesigning suffers from many issues.  Lack of open discussion with all stakeholders can lead to changes that are impossible to implement and/or which lack buy-in from key stakeholders needed to implement the curriculum changes (e.g. teachers, school administrators, etc.).  For example, fundamental questions to curriculum changes such as classroom sizes, teaching loads, content, skills, and assessment tools may not be thoroughly discussed as part of the curriculum change process. In addition, strong curricula are based on theories of knowledge and an understanding of the relationship between knowledge and meaning construction. If curricula are not based on theory, teachers will present information and competencies as if they are inter-changeable. The danger to this will be an inability to assess students’ developed competencies.

In conclusion, most often there is a mismatch between the mission statement of school agencies and the type of knowledge they purport to advance. Therefore, a careful look is needed to make sure that the curriculum employed by an educational agency aligns with the agency’s mission statement. In addition, to advance real curriculum change, key stakeholders need to be involved in the process. Successful curriculum change happens when it is initiated from the down-up rather than from the top-down. Needs for improvement must clearly be identified and incorporated into the new curriculum and the curriculum must be based on clear theory.  From this article, I gained insight into the factors required to successfully change curriculum.  These insights will help me as I pursue a career in curriculum development.

 

Reference

Den Keyer, K (2013). The challenges of curriculum change, ATA Magazine, 93(4): 16-19

Evidence-Based Management of Education in Tanzania: A Cautionary Tale.


Education management and assessment is a challenging process. Most often, educational evaluators fail to evaluate education systems because of not having a complete understanding of the curriculum driving the education process. The not so sophisticated educational assessors view educational assessment as simple as a pass or fail exercise.  The assessment is often based on simplistic tests that only assess the recall of facts and memorized information from the taught curriculum. Usually, the tests used are unable to measure in-depth understanding of concepts as well as critical thinking abilities gained by the student because it is hard to measure these sophisticated elements of learning. The most common tests are standardized which are classified as norm referenced tests and criterion referenced tests.  The evaluation of an education system’s worth is more complex than merely looking for deficiencies in the system. It requires sophisticated assessments that highlight the entire range of issues associate with the education system from the curriculum design itself, its implementation, and evaluation. This process needs to be informative rather than punitive so that educators can learn from empirical evidence in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
 Joel Spring (2011) posits that education has many objectives including “nationalism and patriotism; active democratic citizenship; progressive education; social justice; environmental education; human rights; arts education; cultural studies; consumer and critical media studies; and the social reconstruction of society. Regardless of the many objectives of education, the central focus of education accountability is derived from the summative assessment part. There is little effort to inform the teaching and learning process which is central to improving the quality of education. The data driven accountability in education like in many other social services in Tanzania is based on summative assessment alone and is also driven by the industrial model of management. Summative assessments are purely statistical (quantitative) and therefore add little to no value in education improvement. They are used mainly for placing blame on schools by creating systematic ranking. For example, I have seen a new website called shule.info that ranks schools from best to worst performers. The ranking of school based upon top performers to the lowest performers has no place in education. Education is not a competitive process; it is a collaborative process. And this is so true especially when quality improvement is the main goal. I think it is high time we stop and ask ourselves “What is the purpose of these rankings? Does the ranking offer any meaningful insights on how to improve the schools? If the purpose of the ranking is to shame those schools, then we do not need them. Is there an ulterior motive in all this?
Evaluation in education comes in either formative or summative. Formative evaluation is on-going and provides the educator with information necessary to improve teaching and learning. This is the kind of assessment that is the most preferred in education because it provides evidence needed to improve the system. Summative assessment, on the other hand, happens at the end of the process. Its purpose is mainly to measure if the objectives of the curriculum have been successfully met.  It mainly is used to measure the curriculum objectives like the students’ scores on a standardized test. This type of assessment does not offer solutions that would improve the quality of education. Therefore, these assessments should not be the sole systems of evaluation in an education system. The students’ score alone does not paint the whole picture of a faulty education system.
It is my belief that some people are pushing this narrowed view of education assessment for alternative goals besides the improvement of quality in education. In this vein, I see the beginnings of a business model of educational management in Tanzania. Mind you, business has only one objective, to make a profit for its shareholders. Public education is much more than making a profit. It is the right of every Tanzanian girl and boy to receive an equal opportunity to be educated.
While it is important to assess students, the assessment should meet the objective set forth of the goal that needs to be accomplished. When the assessment is based on a single objective of an education system, it renders a flawed assessment. There is a need to broaden the assessment system so that it can encompass all of the objectives set forth in the curriculum of an education system. I wonder why some respected individuals in the civil society field see this model of assessment as the best for our education system? This type of assessment is meaningless because it does not tell us anything more than the simple acquisition of subject based facts and knowledge. Paulo Freire advocated for a teaching and learning model that “empowers students to be good citizens, patriots, understanding of the democratic fabrics of the country, critical thinkers, and analyzers of the situations around them” and not students who will do as they are told.  
I feel that the vocal individuals (from some asasi za kijamii) have little understanding of education, its purposes, and its assessment systems. Due to a lack of sophisticated understanding of education, they are pushing for an educational assessment system that has no value to education whatsoever. Like A. V. Kelly (2013)said, “when the toothpaste gets out of the tube, it is impossible to put it back”. I think it is high time for people with solid educational backgrounds (not politics or asasi za kijamii kind) to take a lead in devising and directing assessment and measurement in the Tanzanian education system.
In conclusion, I do not deny that there is a place for summative assessment in education. However, when it becomes the end all, and be all, then something is wrong. I hope people will see to it that there is more to education than test scores and start to strengthen the educational quality delivery in Tanzania sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the uninformed will end up leading the informed in this field. The consequences of that will be many children left behind.

A Mixed Method Study Design


By: Shaaban Fundi

In this synthesis I will discuss my understanding of mixed method research design. I will also discuss which methods (qualitative or quantitative) that I will use to drive my research inquiry. In addition, I will discuss in detail the case study approach that I will use in my pilot study.  Finally, I will discuss the lessons I learned throughout the process and discuss why a case study approach and a mixed method design are appropriate for answering my research questions.

 

A mixed method study uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs. In the 1990’s mixed method study design gained popularity (Creswell, 2011). Green (2007) define a mixed method study as “research in which an investigator collects and analyzes data, integrates findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative  approaches  or methods in a single study or program of inquiry” (p.20). According to Creswell (2011) mixed method study increases the breadth and depth of our understanding of the research data, findings, and also corroborates the study findings. By corroborating the findings of the study, it ensures stronger validity of the study findings.

 

To use mixed method design, Creswell (2011) suggests that the research question must match the study design. It is important for the questions formulated to address both the needs for a quantitative and a qualitative study design. One mixed method study entitled “Merging Qualitative and Quantitative Data in a Mixed Method Research: How to and Why not” by Driscoll et al (2007) discusses both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. In addition, Driscoll et al study discusses data interpretation methods used to assess the utility of mixed methods designs that uses both qualitative and quantitative transformative research design. In this study, the author describes two mixed method data collection procedures and two qualitative data analysis procedures.  The procedures of data collection discussed in the article are concurrent and sequential data collection methods. Concurrent data collection design is used to validate one form of data collection with another. For example, qualitative data collection methods can be used concurrently with quantitative data collection methods to validate collected data and findings.  On the other hand, a sequential data collection method employ either a qualitative data collection method first followed by a quantitative data collection or a quantitative data collection method first followed by a qualitative data collection method. For example, surveys could be used first to collect data. Then, the collected data could be analyzed to generate findings. However, if the findings do not tell the whole story, then, in depth interviews could be used with a segment of the study population to validate and/or augment the findings from both data collection methods.

 

In my study I plan to use the sequential data collection method. First, I plan to utilize in depth survey with educators to solicit their experiences using virtual labs in science education. Then, I will analyze the data from the in-depth survey to information gaps that will help me to develop a survey to help validate and corroborate the in-depth interview data and findings. Therefore, the qualitative component of the study will drive the quantitative part of the study. In other words, the qualitative research findings will help me devise a survey instrument to be used in the quantitative study.

 

Now I will turn my discussion on the case study qualitative approach that I plan to use in my mixed research study. According to Creswell (2013) “identifying the problem to be studied, identifying the context, using multiple sources of data collection, data analysis, and representation” are the essential components of a case study. Creswell also identifies five components that should be included as part of the introduction to a well-conducted qualitative research study.  These components include: 1) a clearly defined topic, 2) a well-stated research problem, 3) a literature review justifying the problem, 4) identification of gaps and deficiencies in the existing literature, and 5) a justification and rationale for why the problem is an important area of research (Creswell, 2013; p. 132). I have developed my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study following Creswell’s five prong process. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am exploring this topic by using the case study approach.

 

Case studies are differentiated into various types based on the purpose and the size that bound the case. For example, a case study can involve (be bounded by) one individual, a few individuals, a group, and an entire program (Creswell, 2013). Based on intent Creswell (2013) identifies three approaches to conducting a case study inquiry. These approaches include: intrinsic case study, the single instrumental case study, and the collective or multiple case study. According to Stake (1995) a single instrumental case study focuses on a single issue bounded in one case. In a collective case study the researcher select one issue or concern and then select multiple case studies to illustrate the concern. A collective case study can be achieved by to study either multiple perspectives of a case within a single site or by selecting several cases from multiple sites. Finally, intrinsic case study focuses on the case itself. Some cases present unique or unusual situation. For example, evaluating an educational program that is not working as intended and then creating detailed descriptions of the unique case to illustrate the problems and how to solve those problems. In this pilot case study, I asked teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I collected information about the teachers’ background.  This information will help me to contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy.

 

During my review of the literature, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.

 

The two studies illustrate the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs since it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially amongst high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a case study approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.
Creswell (2013) describes several types of data collection techniques that can be used as part of a case study.  These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events.  In an interpretive case study entitled “An Investigation of Experienced Secondary Science Teachers’ Beliefs About Inquiry: An Examination of Competing Belief Sets”, Wallace and Kang (2004) used a variety of data collection methods. These methods include: (1) semi-structured formal interviews; (2) informal interviews; (3) field notes from observation and video tapes of classroom teaching; (4) lesson plan and student materials documents; and (5) written reflections of the teachers. For my exploratory study, I used in-depth interviews and observations with three teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and I also observed how they use virtual labs in their classrooms.  In my initial interview, I asked six key questions to capture the teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:

 

1)   Tell me about your educational and professional background;

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)                  What is your teaching philosophy?

3)                  How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)               Describe the professional development that has helped you to be effective in using virtual labs for teaching?

5)               What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)               What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

 

To collect data for the pilot case study, I purposely chose my three participants. First, two of the participants are new teachers (less than three years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. One of the interviewee was a veteran educator with over 12 years of teaching experience. Thus, I will not interview the same educators during my actual dissertation study. Second, the participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them. According to Creswell (2013) a researcher may select ordinary research participants due to easy access. In addition, a researcher may select participants with different perspectives on the problem to achieve a purposeful maximal sampling. In this case I choose ordinary participants based mainly on accessibility. However, during the actual study I would like to interview one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description of the single issue-single individual case study that I plan to use for my case study. During my interview with this veteran teacher, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how she uses virtual labs in her classroom in order to provide guidance to other educators on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom.  .

 

I started to analyze the three in-depth interviews I conducted with the educators. I have identified several major themes that arose from the teachers’ experiences. I will use the developed themes to create a detailed chronological description of each participant’s experiences with virtual labs. I will then, present a thematic analysis of the themes that have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that using just one method of data collection in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated data (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). However, I hope to use the lessons learned from the interviews conducted as part of my exploratory case study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I will use for my dissertation.

 

The use of various data collection methods in a case study increases the validity of the study findings by offering the means to cross check the developing themes across the data collection methods (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). In my dissertation study, I plan to use in-depth interviews, observations, and surveys as part of my mixed method study.  It is my hope that this exploratory study will offer me insights on which additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my mixed method dissertation study. In addition, the exploratory study will help me to determine if the initial questions that I have developed are appropriate for collecting teachers’ experience or whether the questions need to be refined. In addition, the findings from this exploratory will help me to determine whether a mixed methods approach is an appropriate study design for my dissertation.

 

In conclusion, this analysis helped me to frame my research study using a case study approach in a mixed method study
design.   As part of this process, I came to realize that case study alone is not sufficient to answer my research question, specifically categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a mixed method study design could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs better by corroborating the findings from in-depth interviews with surveys from a larger population of educators who use virtual labs in science education across the country. Therefore, in my dissertation, I plan to use both qualitative and quantitative study designs to sufficiently answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study.  As a result, the qualitative study will drive the quantitative study.
Reference

Case, J. M., Marshall, D., & Linder, C. (2010). Being a student again: A narrative study of a teachers’ experience. Teaching in Higher Education,15(4): 423-433.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Driscoll, D., Appia-Yeboah, A., Salib, P., & Ruppert, D. (2007). Merging qualitative and quantitative data in a mixed method research: How to and why not. Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, 3(1): 19-28.

Greene, J., Caracelli, V., & Graham, W. (1989). Toward a conceptual framework for Mixed-Methods Evaluation Designs. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 11:255-274.

Kumu-Yeboah, A., & Waynne, J. (2012). Transformation teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher: A narrative of an award winning teacher. Journal of Adult Learning, 23(4): 170-177.

Mann, S. J. (2003). A personal inquiry into an experience of adult learning on-line.

 Instructional Science, 31, 111-125.

Educational Ideologies: Schiro’s Book Review


In this book review, I will discuss the four main educational ideologies presented in the book entitled “Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns” by Michael Schiro (2013). The ideologies I will discuss include: (1) the scholar academic ideology, (2) the social efficiency ideology, (3) the learner centered ideology, and (4) the social reconstruction ideology.  I will also review how my educational ideology has changed over the years and discuss how Schiro’s book has influenced my own teaching practice.

Scholar academic ideologists believe that acquiring an understanding of academic knowledge involves learning the content, conceptual framework, and ways of thinking (Schiro, 2013). Educators who subscribe to the scholar academic ideology use three main teaching methods. The three teaching methods include: didactic discourse, supervised practice, and Socratic discussions. I find myself using almost all of these teaching methodologies in my classroom.  As I develop my 5E lesson plans, I normally think of the best teaching method that I can employ efficiently and effectively to convey concepts to students.  For example, I may ask myself “is exploratory learning the best way to present this material to my students?” or “will power point presentation (didactic) or Socratic questioning be more helpful?”.  Teaching is more than knowing the content; it also involves knowing the pedagogical processes of presenting the information to students who naturally have varied interests, abilities, learning styles, and backgrounds. Thus, to effectively teach students new concepts, you have to constantly think about the best way to present the information.

In the Social Efficiency ideology, the child’s learning is not the main focus. Instead, the focus is on helping students develop the skills necessary to become productive members of society.  The Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child and more emphasis on the capability of the child to fulfill society’s need for skilled workers.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and treating children as individuals with unique needs and unique ways of learning.  It is my strong belief, that the individual needs of each and every student must be addressed in the process of teaching and learning.  I simply cannot view my students as a means to society’s end.

The Leaner Centered ideology’s main focus is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and must be incorporated in the learning experience. I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As an educator, I spend a lot of time in the beginning of the semester learning my students’ interests, prior knowledge, learning styles, and abilities. I believe that in order to teach students effectively, we need to know who they are, what they like and how best they learn. Being aware of my students’ interests and ability is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content and become engaged learners.

Central to the Social Reconstruction ideology is the idea that existing society is imperfect.  In other words, the society in which we reside is broken.  Social reconstructionists believe that education should not be used merely as a vehicle for fixing the flaws within our society, but should instead be used to transform the existing society into a new society that is just, moral, satisfying,  and empowering for everyone. Social reconstructionists argue that the function of schools is not to continue reproducing the existing society. Instead schools should go  beyond reflecting the wishes of the existing society by teaching students to become critical, and analytical thinkers, and to be aware of the injustices existing in our current society.

The four main educational ideologies are fluid in nature and educators may change their ideologies over time.  According to Schiro (2013), educators alter their educational ideologies due to changes in their personal and/or professional lives.  Most educators change their ideologies at least once every four years.  During my own educational career, I have changed my educational philosophy as I have gained more experience.   When I first started teaching, the Scholar Academic ideology dominated my teaching philosophy. At the time, I believed that students had to know and master the content and demonstrate their mastery through a strong performance on a standardized test.  I did not realize that there was more to education and true knowledge than just test scores.

My Scholar Academic views of education were quickly put to test during my first teaching assignment in an urban school in Baltimore. Many of my students came to school hungry and the school environment was the only place where they received two meals a day.  School also allowed them to avoid violent situations that were prevalent in their neighborhoods.  Most of my students did not have a nuclear family living in the home with them. I would say approximately 85% of my students lived with their grandparents because their biological parents were either in jail or had substance abuse issues. As an educator, I was fondly looked at by my students as a role model.  As such, I had to teach my students, through example, that education was a doorway to possibilities and opportunities for a better life.  Therefore, I was not just teaching content to my students.  Instead, I had to assume many roles: I was a father, a counselor, and an advisor.

I soon encountered the Student Centered and Social Reconstruction ideologies of education. The needs of my student necessitated that I adapt my educational philosophy to incorporate these ideologies.  There was need to meet the students where they were and to educate them on how they might be able to reconstruct what they viewed as a broken society. There was a constant friction between my views of education and the views of education held by most educators and administrators at this urban school. I had to learn and adjust my educational philosophy to fit within the context that I was experiencing.  My work as educator was to help students cope with their home situations and also to provide them with the skills necessary to escape poverty and build a better life for themselves. This included teaching them how to work cooperatively with others and how to resolve their differences through communication and not through violence. I was expected to show students that there was a whole world beyond the confines of their current neighborhoods and to empower them to change their circumstances.

When I relocated to a suburban school in Atlanta, the societal expectations changed. My new school was in an upper middle income neighborhood. School was viewed as a place where students learn the skills they need to be productive and successful members of society.  I was expected to help my students earn good grades and prepare them to attend prestigious universities across the country.  This was more in line with the Social Efficiency ideology of education, and I again found myself needing to adjust my educational philosophy. No longer was I trying to change my students’ view of society.  In this context, there was no need to change society for the better. Society was better already.  Instead, I just needed to prepare my students to become productive members of society.

To conclude, as I was reading Schiro’s book, I found myself in agreement with many of the reasons why educational ideologies may change.  Sometimes educators may change their ideologies to fit the trends in society. For example, I had to change my views of education to fit the needs of the student populations with which I was working. It is also true that changes in your own life, such as having children or starting a new degree program, can change your views on the purpose of education.  In my experience, changes in one’s personal and professional life often translate into changes in one’s educational ideology.  Overall, I enjoyed Schiro’s book as much of what he had to say resonated with my own experience as an educator.

 

Reference

Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc

Part II: Conversations with Educators Regarding Virtual Lab Usage in Science Education


In this video I interviewed a science special education educator regarding his experiences with virtual labs in science education. I started the interview by asking him to describe his education background and how he became an educator. In addition, I asked him to describe his educational philosophy and how that philosophy fit in with the use of virtual labs. Furthermore, I asked him to describe a professional development he had received to help him use virtual labs effectively with his students. I concluded the interview by asking him to describe what he sees as the benefits and barriers of using virtual labs in science education and what adaptations he uses to ensure all students in her class benefited from virtual labs.

Part I: Conversations with Educators Regarding Virtual Lab Usage in Science Education


In this video I interviewed a physics educator regarding his experiences with virtual labs in science education. This was my first interview with teachers. I started the interview by asking him to describe his education background and how he became an educator. In addition, I asked him to describe his educational philosophy and how that philosophy fit in with the his use of virtual labs in science. Furthermore, I asked him to describe a professional development he received to help him use virtual labs effectively with his students. I concluded the interview by asking him to describe what he saw as the benefits and the barriers of using virtual labs in science education and what adaptations he employs to ensure all students in his class benefited from virtual labs.

Recomendations for Successful Curriculum Revisions


The article entitled “Principles of Effective Change: Curriculum Revision That Works” by Johnson (2001) describes a study conducted to determine factors for successful curriculum revision for teachers and school administrators in southern Iowa, United States. The purpose of the study was to determine the key elements that will affect the success of curriculum revisions at the school and district levels. In this analysis, I will describe the study design, findings, and recommendations. I will also discuss the lessons I learned from the findings and the approach that I will apply to in my role as a curriculum specialist.

Johnson (2001) used a Likert Scale Response Checklist in a mixed method study designed to solicit educational practitioners’ perspectives on factors they thought contributed to successful curriculum revisions. The Likert Scale Responses Checklist consisted of 28 response questions with six constructed response questions. In addition, four focus group interviews were conducted to substantiate and corroborate the themes and patterns developed from the Likert scale responses. The response rate from the interviews was 77%. 73% were from classroom teachers and 27% were from building level and central office leaders.

Several conclusions were derived from the study. First, participants considered in-service training to be an important component of the overall success of a curriculum revision process. Second, teachers and school administers emphasized that the importance of specific training in the curriculum revision process and a deeper understanding of the process was crucial to the success of the project. Third, consistent review and on-going training was a key component to a successful curriculum revision. The one-shot in-service training program was deemed inadequate by both educators and administrators. Fourth, it was also found that the participants’ ownership of the curriculum revision process was vital to the process.

From the study results, Johnson (2001) came up with six recommendations for successful curriculum revisions for schools and districts:

  • Direct involvement of educators and administrators in the curriculum revision process
  • A long time frame for training and revisions
  • Continuous assistance to participants during the revision process
  • The review process must be consistent throughout the revision process
  • A necessary combination of in-district expertise and out-of-district expertise
  • Better understanding of the curriculum, curriculum review, and curriculum needs by the teachers and administrators.

Lessons Learned

I found the study to be thorough. In addition, I found similar factors for successful curriculum revision in the two previous articles I analyzed. It seems that the most important factor in any curriculum revision and/or change process is the teachers’ participation. According to Blanchard (1978) and Ramparsad (2002) teacher participation in adapting curriculum increases the likelihood of a “buy-in” during the curriculum implementation phase. I wonder why curriculum change in my school district happens without utilizing this previously established empirical fact.  It’s a no brainer that most curriculum changes utilizing the top-down approach fall flat during the implementation phase. In my leadership as a curriculum manager for a school district, I will make sure that empirical evidences for successful curriculum development and implementation are incorporated in the curriculum development process in order to increase the likelihood of success of curriculum adoption at the school and district levels.

 

References

Blanchard, L. J. (1978). Creating a climate of rapid response to needs for change. Journal of Educational leadership, 37-40.

Johnson, A. J. (2001). Principles of effective change: Curriculum revision that works. Journal of Research for Educational Leaders, 4, 5-18.

Ramparsad, R. (2001). A strategy for teacher involvement in curriculum development. South African Journal of Education, 21(4): 287-292.

Change Theory and Curriculum Development


In this reflection I will discuss the article entitled “Creating a Climate of Rapid Response to Needs for Change” by Blanchard (1978). I will present the steps that Blanchard used to develop an alternative curriculum (model) for a high school.  This curriculum addressed the school’s current and future needs that were identified during discussions with the teaching staff.  Finally, I will present the lessons I learned while reading this article.

            Blanchard (1978) describes change as “exciting, refreshing, distressing, frightening, and disorienting at times.”  According to Blanchard (1978), people react differently when encountering the pressure for change.  In particular, curriculum specialists typically have one of three reactions when encountering the pressure to change a curriculum.  First, curriculum specialists may oversimplify the situation. Oversimplifying the situation generally occurs when there is a lack of sufficient information to clearly determine how the curriculum needs to change. This lack of sufficient information may lead to adopting customized solutions (ready-made curricula) or it may lead to adopting simple solutions for complex situations such as additions to curriculum that are not necessarily needed.

The second way curriculum specialists may react is to maintain the status quo. Most times, curriculum specialists may decide to keep the curriculum in place without evaluating the changing needs of society, the teachers, and the students. For example, the demographic profile of the school(s) may change and this can have a major impact on the appropriateness of the curriculum. In this situation, curriculum specialists may decide to keep the status quo because they feel like “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?” However, specialists who adopt this attitude miss the opportunity to ensure the curriculum keeps pace with the changing demographics and meets the needs of the students and teachers in the school system.   

Finally, curriculum specialists may opt for what Blanchard refers to as “bandwagonism”. Under this scenario, curriculum specialists may adopt a curriculum because it has already been adopted by other schools and districts and not because it fit the needs of the school(s) where the specialist works.

To facilitate a climate accommodating to change, Blanchard suggests that curriculum specialists should believe in the worth and contribution of individual teachers as part of the curriculum development process. According to Blanchard, teachers are integral members of the curriculum change process. Curriculum specialists must empower teachers by giving them the opportunity to identify and respond to curriculum needs within their schools and community. Furthermore, Blanchard argues that allowing teacher participation may also reduce suspicions and ensure that the curriculum is widely adopted. It may also help to avoid an atmosphere of resistance that could result from bringing a ready-made curriculum to schools and/or communities without adequate participation of teachers in the process.

In her article, Blanchard presents a case study from her work with teachers at a secondary school to develop an alternative program curriculum that reflected present and future needs of the school. With the teachers, she developed a process model for creating this alternative curriculum. The process model included: the data collection phase, the data analysis phase, the synthesis phase, the commitment phase, and the planning phase.  In the first three phases, teachers identify the current and future needs of the school that are not being addressed with the current curriculum.  In the commitment phase, the teachers select curriculum ideas that match the needs of the school.  Finally, in the planning phase, teachers identify guidelines for measuring the success of the new curriculum. The specialist then takes all of the information from these five phases and develops a curriculum that incorporates input from the teachers.

The lessons I learned from this article are that: 1) it is important for future curriculum specialists/managers such as myself to involve stakeholders in the decision making process while developing a new or an alternative curriculum; 2)  the developed curriculum must be based on present and future needs of the school system; 3) involving stakeholders in decision making improves the likelihood that there will be“ buy in” to the agreed decisions and resulting curriculum; 4) flexibility in time and schedule is paramount to ensure that there is adequate time to solicit teachers’ input; 5) it is important to trust the answers that teachers provide during the process; and 6)  it is important to be there to learn from and not supervise teachers during the process.  This article has given me a good model to follow for developing curriculum in my future work as a curriculum supervisor. 

Reference

Blanchard, L. J. (1978). Creating a climate of rapid response to needs for change. Journal of Educational leadership, 37-40.

Social Reconstruction Ideology of Education


In chapter 5, Schiro (2013) introduces the social reconstruction ideology. Central to the social reconstruction ideology is the idea that the existing society is imperfect.  In other words, the society in which we reside is broken.  Social reconstructionists believe that education should not be used as a vehicle for merely fixing the flaws within our society, but should be used to transform the existing society into a new society that is just, moral, satisfying,  and empowering for everyone. In this context, Social reconstructionists argues that the function of schools is to avoid uncritically serving and reproducing the existing society. It is important to go beyond reflecting the wishes of the existing society by teaching students to become critical, and analytical thinkers, and to also be aware of the injustices existing in our current society.
Furthermore, social reconstructionists believe that educators have the responsibility to empower students to change what they see as a “flawed society.” The argument here is that education should not be neutral to the ills of society. I do agree wholeheartedly with this argument, although, I have doubts on how we as a society are going to agree on the vision of the so called “ideal society.” Americans are already having difficulties agreeing with issues such as planned parenthood, gay marriage, Obama-care and so many other issues. How in the world are we going to agree on issues that will change the existing power structures?  The social reconstructionists idea of changing our society to a desirable society is noble, but impossible to implement under the existing power-coercive society.
Furthermore, in chapter 6, Schiro (2013) provides a comparative overview of the four educational ideologies: the scholar academic, the social efficiency, the child centered, and the social reconstructionists and how they view teaching, learning, assessment, the child, and knowledge. I will hence forth present my opinion on the assessment discussions solely.  The scholar academic ideology view assessment as a way to rank students for a future in the discipline whereas the social efficiency ideology view assessment as a way to certify to the corporate world’s a view of students’ skills that are relevant for the jobs that they offer. Furthermore, the learner centered ideology views assessment as a tool to diagnose students’ abilities and to use the obtained diagnosis as a tool to facilitate growth in student learning, whereas, the social reconstruction ideology views assessment as a measure of student progress with respect to students’ ability rather than in comparison with other students.
 I concur with the assessment views presented by both the learner centered and the social reconstruction ideologies. I see the value of assessment as a diagnostic tool for educators. The diagnosis can help educators to propel students forward to reach their potentials best according to the students’ abilities. In my views the corporate assessment environment that we are operating under is not helpful. The current testing environment greatly hinders student growth.  I feel like the current testing environment does not benefit students at all but, instead it benefits the parents, the administrators, and the corporate world.
Reference
Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc

Phenomenological Study


According to Creswell (2013), a phenomenological study, “describes the common meaning of several individuals of their lived experience of a concept or a phenomenon.” There are two types of phenomenological studies.  The first type is a heuristic phenomenological approach which brings to the fore the personal experience of the researcher (Moustakas, 1990b:9, as cited in Patton; 2002b).  The second type is a transcendental phenomenological approach that involves the researcher bracketing themselves through acknowledging their experiences with the phenomenon under investigation (Creswell, 2013).  I will use the transcendental phenomenological approach for my pilot study.  

 

There are seven main features in a transcendental phenomenological study. These features include:  a) deciding on a phenomenon to be explored, b) identification of a group of individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, c) a discussion of the theoretical framework guiding the phenomenological study, d) a discussion by the researcher regarding their personal experiences with the phenomenon (known as bracketing), e) a data collection procedure commonly involving interviewing individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, f) data analysis procedures that move from narrower significant statements to broader units and, g) a description of the essence of the individuals ‘shared experience.

 

In the next several paragraphs, I apply these seven steps to my dissertation topic.  The phenomenon to be explored in my dissertation project is to investigate teachers’ shared experience using virtual labs in their classrooms. In my initial interview, I would like to ask six main questions to capture teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:

 

1)                  Tell me about your educational and professional background.

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)                  What is your teaching philosophy?

3)                  How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)                  How did you learn about virtual labs?

  1. When did you start using them?
  2. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?

5)                  What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)                  What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

 

While conducting the pilot study, teachers’ experiences with virtual labs will be the main focus or what Creswell (2013) calls “the phenomenon to be explored.” I intend to use a sample size of two teachers who have experience using virtual labs with their students to explore this phenomenon. This number is well below what Creswell (2013) suggests in his book.  Creswell (2013)  advises that a phenomenological study should be conducted with a heterogeneous group of at a minimum 3 to a maximum of 15 individuals.  Given time constraints, I will only be able to interview two teachers.  I am concerned that this sample size will not be sufficient for me to determine the essence of the lived and shared experiences of teachers who have used virtual labs in their classroom.  In addition, the teachers I have chosen are both new to the profession. They each have two years of teaching experience and therefore they have only two years of using virtual labs with their students. I am afraid that the two teachers I have chosen may present a homogeneous rather than a heterogeneous group. Therefore, the teachers I have chosen may not provide a comprehensive picture of teachers’ experiences using virtual labs. In other words, a larger sample size (more than two individuals) consisting of teachers with varied amount of experiences would have given me a richer understanding of teachers ‘experiences using virtual labs.  Despite these limitations, I feel that conducting this pilot study will give me the experience and skills I need to conduct a rigorous qualitative exploration using a phenomenological approach as part of my dissertation..

 

An example of a well-conducted study using a phenomenological approach can be found in the article entitled “A Phenomenological Study –Cognitive Representations of Aids” by Anderson and Spencer (2002).  In this study, the authors wanted to “describe AIDS patients’ cognitive representation of their illness.” The authors used a purposive sample of 41 men and 17 women. To be eligible for the study, participants had to:  have an AIDS diagnosis, be 18 years or older, be able to communicate in English, and have a mini-mental status exam score of greater than 22.  This study shows the rigor that must be met to conduct a phenomenological study.  In my study, I have also set clear inclusion criteria.  To be eligible for my study, teachers must have at least two years teaching experience, be currently using virtual labs in their classroom, be a high school science teacher, be able to communicate in English.  The sample size used by Anderson and Spencer (2002) is more aligned with the guidance given by Creswell (2013).  As previously mentioned, I plan to interview just two teachers for my pilot study.  If I use a phenomenological approach in my dissertation, I will need to increase the number of teachers that I interview in order to get a clearer picture of the range of teacher experiences’ using virtual labs.  

 

Since I am a researcher and also an educator who uses virtual labs in my classroom, it will be necessary for me to acknowledge and bracket these experiences during my study. Creswell (2013) states in conducting a phenomenological study it is necessary for the researcher to acknowledge their experiences, especially when the researcher has experienced the phenomenon under investigation. Anderson and Spencer (2002) acknowledged in their article that they provided health care to persons living with HIV and AIDS.  In addition, they explicitly stated that none of the participants in the study were and/or had been their patients. I found myself in a similar position with these ­­researchers in my attempts to conduct this pilot study. First and foremost I am an educator. I have a lived experience with virtual labs. Second, I am a researcher. I will be interviewing people that I work with on a daily basis. Therefore, it is essential for me to acknowledge these experiences so that I will be able to approach the lived virtual labs experience with a sense of newness (Patton, 2002b). This will help me to set aside the feelings and perceptions I have experienced with this phenomenon to be able to reach a better understanding of other teacher experiences’ using virtual labs in the high school setting.

 

During the data collection phase, I plan to interview high school teachers who have used virtual labs in their classroom.  These interviews will be my only source of data collection.  Creswell (2013) suggests using varied sources of data in a phenomenological study including poems, observations, and documents in addition to interviews. Anderson and Spencer (2002), in their phenomenological study with AIDS patients, used several methods of data collection including interviews, paper-and-pencil questionnaires, drawings, journals, music, and other forms of documentation. These varied methods of data collection helped them to triangulate and validate their findings. Furthermore, it helped them to describe the essence of the lived experience for persons living with HIV/AIDS in a much richer way. I have learned from Anderson, Spencer, and Creswell that I must include varied methods of data collections to capture the essence of teachers’ lived experience with virtual labs in their science courses. In my actual dissertation, I plan to use a combination of data collection methods including in-depth interviews, paper-and-pencil questionnaires, and observations to increase my understanding of teachers’ experiences using virtual labs.

 

To analyze the data from my pilot study, I will transcribe the interviews verbatim.  On the transcripts of these interviews, I will highlight significant statements, quotes, and sentences. I will then use these statements, sentences, and quotes to build my understanding of how the teachers experienced virtual labs.  Finally, I will write a composite description of the similarities and differences in how the teachers experienced the use of virtual labs in their science classrooms.

 

In summary, there are many lessons learned from this analysis. First, the best sample size for a phenomenological study is between 5 to 25 participants. My pilot study only includes a sample size of two teachers.  Thus, I will need to increase the sample size of teachers that I interview for my dissertation. Second, I am relying on a single method of data collection for my pilot study.  However, I will need to use a variety of data collection methods during my dissertation to gain a richer understanding of teachers’ experiences with virtual labs.  Third, since I will be using the transcendental phenomenological approach, it is imperative that I acknowledge my experiences with virtual labs (bracketing) so that I can be able to look at the participants’ experiences with a fresh set of eyes or what Patton (2002b.9) calls looking with “a sense of newness.” Fourth, to elicit a deeper and richer understanding of teachers’ experiences with virtual labs the set of questions I have developed needs to be streamlined. My questions are a little too broad and may need some refining for my actual dissertation study. I got some ideas for how to refine these questions during the interviews I conducted as part of my pilot study. 

 

For my next analysis, I will use a case study approach to guide my qualitative inquiry. This analysis will help me determine if a case study approach is better suited to explore teachers’ shared and lived experiences with virtual labs.

 


 

References

Anderson, E., & Spencer, M. (2002). A phenomenological study: cognitive representation of AIDS. Qualitative Health Research, 12(10), 1338-1352.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Patton, M. Q. (2002b). Variety in qualitative inquiry: Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Curriculum Development: Lessons from South Africa


The article entitled “A Strategy for Teacher Involvement in Curriculum Development” by Ramparsad (2001) discusses effective strategies for involving practitioners in curriculum development. Ramparsad begins the article by providing a brief history of the educational system in South Africa.  Historically, South Africa was an apartheid state and all educational systems and curricula were centrally controlled. Ramparsad argues that this centralized model of educational delivery, with its centrally created and disseminated curricula, led educators to become technicians rather than professionals. In 1994, after the collapse of apartheid, South Africa held free and fair elections for the first time.  These elections ushered in majority rule and led to a new focus on creating an egalitarian society.  The educational system under apartheid had been geared toward educating the white minority.  However, with the collapse of apartheid, the need arose to address the shortcomings in the existing educational institutions and curricula in order to achieve a more egalitarian educational system and society.   

As part of this effort, in 1996, the government of South Africa developed a new ten year curriculum known as the “2005 curriculum” to replace the curricula used under apartheid.  As part of developing this curriculum, the government sought greater teacher participation during all four phases of curriculum development including the design phase, the dissemination phase, the implementation phase, and the evaluation phase.  To assess the level of teacher participation in developing the “2005 curriculum”, Ramparsad (2001) conducted interviews with foundational grade one teachers.  The purpose of these interviews was to assess whether teachers had the necessary skills and training to effectively engage in the curriculum development process and their feelings and anxieties during the development and implementation of the “2005 curriculum”.  Ramparsad used the findings from these interviews to inform the adaptation of the national “2005 curriculum” by  Provincial level authorities in the Gauteng Province Department of Education (the province where Pretoria and Johannesburg are located).   

Ramparsad’s study identified three main recommendations for the Gauteng Province Department of Education to improve teacher involvement in the curriculum development process.  First, the Province needed to dedicate time to train teachers on curriculum development in order to give them the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in all four phases of the development process and to be able to meaningfully contribute to the process. It was evident from the study that educators did not have the required skills for developing curriculum and training was therefore required to address this skills gap. To develop this training, Ramparsad (2001) recommended that the Province:

1)      assess what skills and knowledge teachers’ already possessed in terms of curriculum development,

2)      provide teachers with formal training on the curriculum development process during semesterized courses to address identified gaps, and

3)      ensure that the courses offered to teachers were accredited by the National Qualifications Framework.

Ramparsad also recommended that the Province invest in formal in-service training at the schools to familiarize teachers with the new curriculum in order to facilitate widespread adoption of the new curriculum. Finally, Ramparsad’s study found that teachers reported limited involvement in the evaluation phase of the curriculum development process and so special effort would be needed by the Province to engage teachers during this phase. 

Overall, I think this study was very informative and provided clear recommendations for successfully engaging teachers in the curriculum development process. The researcher touched on all necessary phases of curriculum development: design, dissemination, implementation, and evaluation. He also offered useful recommendations for each phase which I found to be very useful. However, I felt that Ramparsad placed an over emphasis on training.  While I agree, that it is essential that teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the curriculum development process, I do not believe that training alone is sufficient to fully engage teachers throughout the process.  Given the historical context in which this curriculum was being developed – the end of apartheid and the beginning of a new democratic country – teachers should have had greater input into what information the new curriculum would contain. 

In my opinion, offering training courses to teachers on curriculum development is a top-down-approach that does not allow teachers to fully input into the design of the new curriculum.  This is what Bennis and colleagues (1969; as cited in Kelly, 2009) call a “power-coercive” strategy.   The researcher is looking at educators as deficient in the curriculum process and therefore through training their deficiencies will be addressed. In my view, a bottom-up approach would be more successful in this case. The bottom up approach would involve asking teachers as professionals to articulate what they believe should be included in the post-apartheid curriculum through a participatory approach.  This approach, along with training, would more effectively engage teachers in all aspects of curriculum development. 

References

Kelly, A. V. (2009). The Curriculum Theory and Practice (6th ed.) Southern Oaks, CA: SAGE Publication, Inc.

Ramparsad, R. (2001). A strategy for teacher involvement in curriculum development. South African Journal of Education, 21(4): 287-292.

Narrative Research Approach: Synthesized.


In this synthesis of narrative qualitative inquiry, I will review the readings that I have done on narrative inquiry. I will also present my plans for using the narrative inquiry tradition to develop my exploratory study. Finally, I will provide lessons learned throughout the process and discuss whether a narrative inquiry approach is appropriate for answering my research questions.

 Creswell (2013) states that “introducing and focusing the study, data collection methods, and data analysis and representation” are the essential components of a narrative inquiry. Creswell also identifies five components that should be included as part of the introduction to a well-conducted qualitative research study.  These components include: 1) a clearly defined topic, 2) a well-stated research problem, 3) a literature review justifying the problem, 4) identification of gaps and deficiencies in the existing literature, and 5) a justification and rationale for why the problem is an important area of research (Creswell, 2013; p. 132). As I start to develop my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study, I found Creswell’s five prong process to be helpful. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am planning to explore this topic using a narrative inquiry approach.

 

Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study I plan to use a life story narrative approach.  I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history.  Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course.   This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I will be asking the teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I will collect information about the teachers’ background.  This information will help contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy.

 

During my review of the literature, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.

 

The two studies points to the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using quantitative methodology. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.

                                                                                                                      

Creswell (2013) describes several types of data collection techniques that can be used as part of a narrative inquiry.  These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events.  In their study entitled “Transformational Teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher”, Kumi-Yeboah and Waynne (2012) use a combination of in-depth interviews, observations of teacher-student interactions, field notes, and follow-up interviews to trace the evolution of a teacher from a novice to an expert. For my exploratory study, I also plan to use a variety of data collection techniques including in-depth interviews with two teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and to observe how they use virtual labs in their classrooms.  In my initial interview, I would like to ask six main questions to capture teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:

 

1)   Tell me about your educational and professional background;

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)   What is your teaching philosophy?

3)   How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)      Describe the professional development that has helped you to be effective in using virtual labs for teaching?

5)      What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)      What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

 

In my data collection phase, I am purposely choosing my two participants for the following reasons. First, the participants are new teachers (two years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I will not interview them during my actual dissertation study. Second, the participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them. However, during the actual study I would like to interview just one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description that narrative inquiries are best suited for studying the lived experiences of a single individual. During my interview with this veteran teacher, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how she uses virtual labs in her classroom in order to provide guidance to other teachers on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom.  .

 

Finally, in my data analysis phase, I intend to identify and interpret the major themes arising from the teachers’ stories. This is where the information gathered from the interviews will help create developing themes regarding the participants’ experiences with virtual labs.  I will then, present a visual comparison of the themes that may have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that including just two participants in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated stories (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). However, I hope to use the lessons learned from the interviews conducted as part of my exploratory study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I use for my dissertation.

 

The use of various data collection methods in a narrative study increases the validity of the study findings by offering the means to cross check the developing themes across the data collection methods (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). I plan to use both in-depth interviews and observations as part of my exploratory study.  It is my hope that the exploratory study will offer me some insights on what additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my dissertation study. In addition, the exploratory study will help me to determine if the initial questions that I have developed are appropriate for collecting teachers’ experience or whether the questions need to be refined.

 

In conclusion, the synthesis for this week has helped me to frame my research study using a narrative inquiry approach.   As part of this process, I came to realize that other approaches may be more appropriate to answer my research question, namely categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a phenomenological inquiry could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs. Therefore, in synthesis two, I will explore these same questions using a phenomenological approach of qualitative inquiry. This will help me to determine which approach, narrative or phenomenological, is best suited to help me answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study. 

 

References

Case, J. M., Marshall, D., & Linder, C. (2010). Being a student again: A narrative study of a teachers’ experience. Teaching in Higher Education,15(4): 423-433.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Kumu-Yeboah, A., & Waynne, J. (2012). Transformation teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher: A narrative of an award winning teacher. Journal of Adult Learning, 23(4): 170-177.

Mann, S. J. (2003). A personal inquiry into an experience of adult learning on-line.

 Instructional Science, 31, 111-125.

Post Structuralism and Deconstructionism In Education


This week’s supplemental reading was very informative and added to my overall understanding of chapter five of the book entitled “Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches” by Creswell. Chapter five of Creswell (2013) details the five qualitative inquiry types: Case Study, Ethnography, Phenomenology, Narrative Study, and Grounded Theory.  I, however, will not dwell on the five types of qualitative lines of inquiry in this reflection. I will mainly discuss two ideas that I found to be interesting in the supplemental reading. First, I found the post-structural theoretical approach to be very interesting and trans-formational. I have always had an inclination that inclusion practices in education were a problematic endeavor since my first encounter with the idea. My doubts for inclusion may have been caused by conflicting educational ideologies. My upbringing and the schooling philosophies I studied under while growing up in Tanzania were very different from the ones I found myself working under in the American schools.

I struggled with the inclusion ideology a lot in my first few years of teaching in Baltimore, Maryland. I do understand the importance of mainstreaming disabled students, students with color, and others in the general education classroom. However, I was somehow dismayed by the fact that administrators will put students who were 3 to5 grade levels below in reading, writing, and mathematics in the same classroom with those who are on or above grade level. The inclusion idea is a brilliant one in theory, but in practice, it is flawed in many levels. It is a challenge for teachers to differentiate instruction to 30 plus students who are 3 to 5 below grade level and who also happen to have varied learning styles.  Dunne (2001) points out that inclusion is seen as fundamentally a good idea in the inclusive education arena. However, post-structuralism lens provides us with the tool to question the practice. Post structuralism also helps us realize that inclusion is laden with many problems in practice. For me it was heartwarming to realize that there are qualitative research methods such as post structuralism and discourse based qualitative inquiries that can be used to illuminate/or critique the fallacies of inclusive education.

In addition, I found the article entitled “The Q Standards and Initial Teacher Training: The Discursive Formation of Teachers and their Trainers” by Bartle (2011) quite interesting. It had never crossed my mind that text can be hegemonic. According to Derrida (1978, as cited in Bartle; 2001) deconstruction is a useful means of understanding text and the world.  Using Derrida’s deconstruction method we will be able to deconstruct the binary opposition in the text for instance, power/powerlessness, groups/individuals, knowledge/ignorance and so forth.  A good example of current education policies text that is embedded with hegemonic languages is the No child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. The Race to the Top is littered with the language of power (the county, the state, and the nation) and the language of powerlessness for the teachers. The undemocratic nature of the Race to the Top policy is clearly laid out in its language regarding the teacher evaluation system that is tied to student achievement. The document leaves no room for teachers to be knowledgeable and empowered professionals. All the power is allotted to the politicians. Thus, deconstruction and post-structural methods of qualitative inquiry can be a powerful tool in understanding meanings embedded in text that perpetuate and promote hegemony.

 

Reference

 

Bartle, P. (2011). The ‘Q’ standards and initial teacher training: The discursive formation of teachers and their trainers. In J. Adams, M. Cochrane & L. Dunne (Eds).  Applying theory to educational research: An introductory approach with case studies (pp. 31-46). New York, NY: Wiley.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Dunne, L. (2011). How applying a discourse-based approach. . In J. Adams, M. Cochrane, & L. Dunne (Eds).  Applying theory to educational research: An introductory approach with case studies (pp. 123-138). New York, NY: Wiley.

Social Efficiency and Learner Centered Ideologies in Education


Reading through chapters 4 and 5 of the book entitled Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns by Schiro (2011), I gained an in-depth understanding of what the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency ideologies represent. In this week’s brief reflection of the two chapters, I will base my discussion on how the two ideology views the child/learner and the teacher.

In the Social Efficiency ideology, the child is not the main focus. The focus is to develop skills necessary for society’s needs. The child’s is viewed as potential adult members of the society. The Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child. It places more emphasis on the capability of the child to fill social needs of the society.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and that other aspects of the individual child are equally as important as the capability to fulfill social needs of society. Individual needs of the child need to be addressed in the process of teaching and learning.

On the other hand, the Leaner Centered ideology’s main focus is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and needs to be incorporated in the learning experiences. I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As a teacher, I spend quite sometime in the beginning of the semester to learn my students’ interests, prior knowledge, and abilities. I believe that in order to teach students (kids) effectively, we need to know who they are and what they like. Being aware of students’ interests and ability is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content.

The Social Efficiency ideology views a teacher as a “manager of the conditions of learning (Gagne, 1970, p. 324; as cited in Schiro, 2011). In essence the teacher’s role is to implement curriculum developed by developers with little or no input of their own. As a teacher I feel that the role of the teacher in the Social Efficiency ideology is misguided. Teachers should be able to make needed changes to the curriculum to meet students’ needs and interests. This will help students to learn, create meanings, and the skills necessary to be fully functioning members in a democratic society.

The role of the teacher in the Learner Centered ideology is to provide consultations to the child. The consultation that will help the child to reach whatever destination s/he needs to go. I am in favor of this teaching and learning approach. I see myself in this role while teaching my courses. I create experiences and put myself in the background to watch and admire as my students create their own meaning from the experience.  In conclusion, I see the value on both ideologies and I tend to borrow the goods from both in my praxis.

Reference

Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns ((2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 

The Politics of American Education: My take on Joel Spring’s Book


By: Shaaban Fundi
Growing up in the East African country of Tanzania, attending school was the only way I knew to escape poverty. My parents and teachers emphasized to me from an early age the importance of remaining in school so that I could gain the skills necessary to get a high-paying job.  In my view, the main socio-cultural factor driving this belief was the lack of a social safety net for the elderly.  This was especially true for individuals working in informal sectors like agriculture and day labor.  Since 70% of Tanzanians are subsistence farmers, including my parents, there was a strong belief that you had to earn as much money as you could during your prime working life to have the money and resources you needed when you could no longer work.  Culturally, children were also expected to help take care of their elderly parents.  Therefore, educating your child was seen as an investment not only for the child’s future, but also for the parents’ golden years.

Moreover, as a child, the only people I knew who were not subsistence farmers, and who appeared to be “rich” to me, were those who went to school and were able to secure lucrative positions with the government. Thus, when I read the quote from Spring (2011, p 141) that “schools can help people escape from poverty by teaching the knowledge and skills needed for employment and instilling values of hard work and discipline”, I knew it to be true from my own life experience. What was interesting to me after reading Spring’s book (2011) was that since my early childhood, I had been indoctrinated to embrace a conservative view regarding the human capital ideology of education.

Human capital ideology is very appealing to parents, politicians, and business leaders. It assumes without question that teaching students the skills they need to be competitive in the world market is the primary reason for education. However, Spring (2011, p 11) posits that education has many objectives including “nationalism and patriotism; active democratic citizenship; progressive education; social justice; environmental education; human rights; arts education; cultural studies; consumer and critical media studies; and the social reconstruction of society.  I agree with Spring’s argument and would further state that if we center the purpose of education and schooling only on the human capital ideology, we miss the opportunity to raise the next generation to be well-rounded with strong grounding in ethical, moral, cultural, and patriotic values.

Other criticisms of the human capital ideology center on the fact that there are “not enough jobs in the knowledge economy to absorb school graduates into skilled labor presently” (Brown & Lauder, p 320; as cited in Spring, 2011).  In addition, Hacker (p.38; as cited in Spring, 2011) argues that capital education ideology has been oversold, and that “the number of jobs operating high-tech instruments will outnumber jobs requiring college trained scientists and engineers in the future.” These jobs require only a high school graduation diploma or associate’s degree.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 introduced data-driven decision management.  The NCLB legislation “sought to close the achievement gap between the rich and the poor students by creating common curriculum standards, closing failing schools, and introducing the public reporting of student test scores” (Spring, 2011, p 36). In my 8 years as an educator, I have witnessed the pendulum shift introduced by the NCLB.  Before the Act was introduced, educators had the ability to choose instructional strategies for their classroom, to create their own lesson plans, and to design appropriate evaluations to test student knowledge and understanding.  While teacher accountability may have been difficult to measure under that system, the pendulum has swung so far over that I now feel, like Spring, that the current model of teaching consists of “scripted lessons created by some outside agency” and that teachers are increasingly forced to teach to the requirements of standardized tests (Spring, 2011, p 11).

This is what I refer to as the “standardization of the curriculum”.  In my view this standardization has narrowed the focus from educating students to be thoughtful, productive citizens with the skills necessary to successfully compete in the global marketplace to teachers concentrating on “teaching to the test”.  The consequences for teachers who fail to reach the targets outlined in NCLB are dire including job loss or failure to receive a pay raise under the newly proposed teacher merit pay system that ties students’ scores to teachers’ salary. I fear that one unintended consequence of NCLB may be that teachers will lose the ability to utilize alternative teaching styles and strategies that actively engage students in the learning process and that are fundamental to the development of skills that students need to be successful in the 21st century (i.e., critical thinking, analytical, problem solving, etc.).  America may then lose its historical advantage in producing the world’s technological entrepreneurs and innovations.   

Another issue that Spring (2011) discusses in his book is the idea of brain gain, brain drain, and brain recirculation. Before reading this book, I was unaware of how the human capital ideology had impacted the relationship between developed and developing countries.  I did not know, for example, that the World Bank – an organization that provides loans to resource limited countries from capital provided by resource rich countries – was supporting education in poor countries to create a skilled labor force.  This is known as “brain gain”.  Unfortunately, the motive behind these loans was not entirely altruistic as this skilled labor force was meant to help supplement the dwindling workforce seen in many resource rich countries due to declining birth rates. The resulting “brain drain” has led many of the brightest, most highly educated citizens from resource limited countries to seek opportunities in resource rich settings, leaving behind indebted nations unable to compete in the global workplace without their skilled laborers.

Countries hit hard by the brain drain phenomenon in sub Saharan Africa include Sierra Leone (52.5%), Ghana (46.9%), Mozambique (45.1%), Kenya (38.4%), Uganda (35.6%), Angola (33.0%), and Somalia (32.7%). These are countries from “a region that is struggling with poverty, health problems, and wars” that have lost most of their educated population to resource rich countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada (Spring, 2011, p 233). However, there is evidence that instead of a “brain drain” there may be a “brain recirculation” as many migrants are beginning to travel back and forth between the richer countries and their countries of origin as the economies of their home countries grow.  Upon their return, these migrants pass the knowledge and wealth they gained during their years abroad with their fellow citizens. 

The “brain drain” discussion hit especially close to home for me since I was educated in both Tanzania and the United States and I currently live and work in the United States.  I see myself as a “brain gain” for the United State and a “brain drain” for Tanzania. I received my undergraduate education in Tanzania free of charge since the government pays all college tuition.  I then immigrated to the United States and have lived and worked here for over a decade while pursuing three graduate degrees.  Eventually, I would like to be part of the “brain recirculation” by returning to Tanzania and sharing the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my time in the United States.  In the meantime, I have already started a program in my home village called the Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center.  Each summer, I go back to Tanzania and provide seminars for teachers on the latest evidence-based teaching and learning strategies (e.g. experiential learning and project based learning) so that they can utilize this information to teach the next generation of Tanzanians.

In his book, Spring (2011) also discusses how local education standards are increasingly being supplanted by global standards, leading to the rise of multinational companies seeking to exploit this burgeoning market.  Moreover, in developing countries like Tanzania, the ability to speak and write English is viewed as essential for securing high paying employment.  In many former British colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, the primary language of instruction and of commerce is English.  As a result, students learn math and science and all other subjects in English.   The local language is taught as a subject.  Parents support their children learning English as they view it to be a necessary skill to help their child compete successfully in school and in the marketplace, a view based on human capital ideology.

Many multinational corporations have seized on this demand for English as a Second Language to develop curricula, computer-based instruction, and resource books that are marketed globally.  According to Spring (2011) global testing producers such as “Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Educational Testing Services benefit from educational systems that rely on standardized testing for promotion, graduation, and college entrance, and on English as a Second Language commerce”. Multinational Corporations promote the idea of human capital ideology and the standardization of curricula and standards so that they can create and market textbooks, tests, and other resources not only to American schools but also to education systems throughout the World.  In my view, these for-profit educational companies are contributing to the over-emphasis on “teaching to the test” as it benefits them financially.  However, unless the pendulum begins to swing towards a balance between accountability through standardized testing and utilization of teaching strategies that provide students with the high level skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace (e.g. synthesis, analysis, problem solving), I fear that the options for teachers will continue to be limited and our students will be increasingly unprepared to be true global citizens.

In summary, my take home messages from reading the “Politics of American Education” (Spring, 2001) are that: (1) education is very complex; (2) politics and commerce play a major role in our current education system; (3) human capital ideology is flawed; and (4) multinational for-profit corporations have an interest in maintaining and even increasing the use of standardized curricula and testing both in the United States and globally. As an educator, I now realize that I will have to plan and develop curricula that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders including students, teachers, administrators, politicians, parents, and Multinational Corporations.  I also realize that I will have to continue to advocate for student-focused teaching strategies (e.g.  experiential and project based learning) in my lecture hall and in other classrooms across the country to ensure my students leave my classroom with a love of learning and with the skills they need to be productive global citizens.  I will end with words of wisdom from Freire and Macedo, 1987 (as cited by Wink, 2011) “reading the world is as important and more so as reading the word.”

 

Reference

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

 

Spring, J. (2011). The Politics of American Education. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

 

Wink, J. (2011). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World (4th ed). New Jersey, PA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Summer Vacation: St. Simons, Jekyll, and Savannah, Georgia.


Pili and Rick

We usually take our June vacation somewhere by the beach in the hot and swampy Florida. This year I was in for a change. Not changing the beach scene, but changing the vacation location altogether. It gets boring going down to the Sunshine State when you have already seen and done all the beaches and coastal towns. We made a decision to go to the beach off course, but in the home state of Georgia. So, we decided to go for a week at St. Simons Island.

The Bridge to Jekyll IslandDeciding where to go was easy, but not enough in and by itself. We had to also decide on where we would stay for the whole week. The house or hotel where we would stay had to be next to the beach and also had to have an easier access to other places in our hit list (i.e., Savannah, Jekyll, and St. Simons Islands). We ruled out hotels, condos, and apartment complexes. The reason for ruling out these places was simple—too much traffic (tourists) as we needed a secluded place just for ourselves.

Dolphin Tour Jekyll Island

We decided to rent a house. There are many rental house options in St. Simons. We wanted a house that had a pool to sock in after long bike rides in the hot afternoons. We were able to get a house three blocks from the beach which was really nice. The house had an authentic island vide with bougainvillea drapes and the best part of all it was three blocks from a serene beach. We could watch the sunset by the beach every night just by taking a shot five minutes walk. The atmosphere was very relaxing, romantic, and secluded.

So, we spent about two days in each of our hit locations. The first day, which was a Saturday, we just lounged at the pool and made some barbeque for dinner. The next day (Sunday), we went to the main street St. Simons and spent a couple of hours there riding bikes, walking at the fishing pier, saw the lighthouse,  saw the bloody marsh, and then we retreated for a swim at the main attraction swimming pool next to the Atlantic Ocean. It was so much fun.

Century Old Oak Tree

We spend the next two days visiting Jekyll Island. It is a very small version of St. Simon but packed with a lot of activities. We did the wharf boat tour. We were able to see tones of dolphins along the way. We also did the Sea Turtle Center where we saw firsthand the work that the center does to protect the marine environment and its creatures. As a marine scientist I was very impressed with the center and with the types of sea turtle species they had there. Then, we decided to see the Summer Waves Water Park. This park is kind small but the waves are worth all the money. It was really fun to hit the water again. And to finish off, we went took a tour of the historic Jekyll Island. Now I know why the rich and famous loved this island in the early 20th century.

Migrant Birds StopMy Future Parking Spot

Wednesday and Thursday, we went to Savannah. Unlike St. Simon and Jekyll Islands, Savannah is a big city. It was not possible to cover the entire city of Savannah in a single day. We had to be strategic. We decided to only do two things: 1) take the bus tour and a walking tour in the first day, 2) do shopping along the river the next day. The bus tour was fantastic. Savannah is rich of history and culture. Later on we walked the trail following the civil war battles that ended in Savannah. Tired and ready to sleep we drove back to St. Simon for our night. We concluded our vacation by seating back and relaxing at the pool.

The Beach

Till next time………

A Day in the Woods, Social Circle, Georgia.


Blueberry Tasting
Hiking the Trails

It was one of those days again when you wake up in the morning and say to yourself I am getting out of here. I was tired of the daily grind and ready to chi-relax my mind by hitting up some trails in a nearby town named Social Circle. So, we left the house after breakfast and headed for nature.Blueberry Tasting

We stopped at Social Circle for lunch at the historic Blue Willow Inn. This place has a great customer service, great atmosphere, and great southern Food. The food was amazing—corn on the cob, collard greens, roast beef with gravy, and the best shrimp rice in town. When you eat in the south, you take your meal down with either a glass of cold sweetened ice tea or a glass of cold lemonade.You know my choice already, LEMONADE.

After lunch we headed down to Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm to pick some yummy blueberries. As always, they farm did not disappoint. We spent an hour or so in the hot summer sun filling our basket full of blueberries.

Image
We left the farm with full supply of cold water and Gatorade bottles ready to hit the trails at Hard Labor Creek Park.  I love the trails there. They are neither too steep nor too flat for my taste. We did the yellow and red trails just next to the trading post for a combination of 2.5 miles. Yeah, you guessed it right. We were completely tired after all the walking in the bush. Taking on the Trails<
To cool ourselves down we decided to head to the beach. Yeah, they do have a beach. Sat down and watched people swim in the lake water drinking our Gatorade and ice cold waters.
Till next time……

Taking It Easy

A Critique: ChemVLab+: Evaluating a Lab Tutor for High School Chemistry


Title of the Article: ChemVLab+: Evaluating a Lab Tutor for High School Chemistry

Overview

In the article entitled, “ChemLab+: evaluating a virtual lab tutor for high school chemistry” by Devenport and colleagues., the authors argue that teaching high school chemistry typically involves quantitative problem solving activities with the assumption that students will learn core concepts through manipulation of numbers and symbols. Another assumption is that students who are able to successfully perform complex calculations have mastered these core concepts and this mastery reflects conceptual understanding. Research in chemistry education, however, questions these assumptions. For example, it is unclear if quantitative ability is an indication of conceptual understanding and even high achieving students may lack basic knowledge of core principles.
In their article, Devenport et al., provide several examples to illustrate the lack of validity in the assumption that quantitative ability reflects conceptual understanding. In their first example, they cite a study by Smith & Metz, (1996) which found that students performed well in traditional acid/base assessment using quantitative assessment methods, but failed to identify strong versus weak acids when shown examples in diagrams and/or graphic forms. They argue that this example indicates “that definition terms were used without true comprehension of the concept”.
In addition, the authors argued that the current emphasis on algorithmic problem solving does not adequately prepare students with the conceptual understanding they need to reason in chemistry. To support this view, they use a study by Nakhleh and Mitchel (1993), which found that “when students are given both algorithmic and conceptual items paired for identical concepts, more students were successful on solving algorithmic items rather than conceptual items”. In this study, half of students with high algorithmic performance had low conceptual performance indicating difficulty connecting the mathematical representations with the underlying chemistry concepts. From this study, the authors conclude that the “current emphasis on algorithmic problem solving does not prepare students well with the conceptual understanding needed to reason properly in the world of chemistry”.

Study Design

Due to the mounting evidence (e.g., Bodner & Herron, 2002; Gabel & Bunce, 1994; Nakhleh & Mitchel, 1993; Smith and Metz, 1996) discrediting the assumption that quantitative abilities reflect conceptual understanding, the authors of this study designed an experiment to test an intervention aimed at improving chemistry students’ conceptual knowledge in addition to their quantitative skills. The intervention, ChemCollective Virtual Lab, engages students in meaningful problem solving of complex chemistry concepts to improve their conceptual understanding of core concepts. The authors employ a mixed-methods approach involving classroom observations (the student engagement aspects), pretests and posttests (cognitive and conceptual achievement of both quantitative and conceptual skills), log-file analyses (an instrument to analyze learning as it occurs through repeated student learning growth), and teacher interviews (soliciting input from teachers on what worked and what needed improvement) to evaluate the effectiveness of ChemCollective Virtual Lab.

Strength of the Article

The authors provide a strong justification for their assertion that quantitative ability does not necessarily indicate conceptual understanding of core concepts in chemistry by providing several examples from the literature. Conceptual learning, the authors argue, can only be achieved through authentic manipulation of real world examples, informed negotiation, short-term feedback, and live tutoring. They test this hypothesis by evaluating a chemistry teaching tool they developed, ChemCollective Virtual Labs, which includes exercises to improve both quantitative skills and conceptual learning, the two skills necessary to master chemistry. Through ChemCollective Virtual Labs, students have the opportunity to apply chemistry knowledge to real world examples and receive immediate, individualized feedback
while the system estimates their proficiency in understanding core concepts. The results of the mixed methods evaluation suggest that students were actively engaged with the tool and that they improved their understanding of chemistry. Teachers also found the activities to be worthwhile.
Overall, the authors make a strong case to discredit the assumption that quantitative ability reflects conceptual mastery in chemistry. Their argument is further strengthened by providing evidence of the effectiveness of the ChemCollective Virtual Lab at improving students’ understanding of chemistry by focusing on both quantitative skills and conceptual learning. This article is a good example of how to develop an intervention based on an identified gap in the literature, to test that intervention using a rigorous evaluation, and report the results of the evaluation in a way that can be useful to other educators and researchers.

Weakness of the Article

While I agree mostly with the authors’ argument that quantitative skills do not necessarily reflect conceptual understanding, I question their assertion that virtual tutoring alone can lead to sustained student motivation and engagement over long periods of time. I feel as though a teacher’s role in motivating, monitoring, and explaining the activity and what students need to get from the activity is also important and is insufficiently addressed in this article.
I also question the assertion that computer tutoring alone can improve students’ conceptual understanding of chemistry concepts. Students misunderstanding of key chemistry concepts often arise from deeply held beliefs that they have developed over a long period of time. A single lesson from a computer with simple explanations may not be able to sufficiently address and correct these misconceptions. Teachers, through ongoing observation and engagement with students, can identify and correct these misconceptions. Therefore, while I value the ChemCollective Virtual Lab as a teaching tool, I do not believe that it is a substitute for quality teaching. Without teacher input and engagement, I do not believe that ChemCollective Virtual Lab and tools like it will be successful in the long run. Thus, while ChemCollective Virtual Lab may be an important tool in my arsenal for teaching chemistry, it can’t be the only tool.

Lessons Learned

Since I am interested in evaluating the effectiveness of virtual labs in improving students’ understanding of chemistry concepts for my own thesis, I found this article to be very useful for several reasons:
1. It has provided me with some insights on how I should approach my literature review and in the writing of my conceptual framework. I have discovered that searching the reference lists of relevant articles can help me discover articles directly related to my thesis.
2. I also liked how they used a mixed methods approach including: a) student engagement, b) pretests and posttests, c) and teacher interviews to evaluate their intervention. In my own study, I intend to look at engagement, student achievement on virtual labs versus paper and pencil instructional approaches, and student perceptions to compare the two teaching methods.
3. This article also helped me think about my data analysis plan. The authors used a paired-samples t-test to compare student pre and posttest scores. I may use a similar approach in my thesis. Therefore, I have enhanced my understanding of various approaches for data analysis that I might employ in my own thesis study.
Reference
Devenport, J. L., Rafferty, A., Timms, M. J., Yaron, D., & Karabinos, M. (2012). ChemLab+: Evaluating a virtual lab tutor for high school chemistry. The Proceedings of the 2012 International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Tanzania Education System: Why Change It?


Each year and each time the National Examination results (Standard Seven, Form Four, and Form Six) are announced, the discussion regarding the failures of the education system in Tanzania pops up.  The central question in these discussions is whether or not the education system is meeting its goals of educating the Tanzanian youth? TWAWEZA’s  data (2011-2012) from a cross-sectional studies in over 38 districts of the Tanzanian education system highlights some of the issues and the difficulties facing the system. Access the report here. Findings from this cross-sectional study paints a gleam picture. At the primary, secondary, and high school levels, majority of our children are not learning and not acquiring practical  and problem-solving skills needed to be successful in life and for post primary education. The skills gap is much wider between rural and urban primary, secondary, and high schools. This skill gap has created a rural-urban divide on how children access quality education in Tanzania.

Major Issues Facing the Education System in Tanzania

Tanzania has a K-13 education system. It starts with the kindergarten level for one year, the primary level for seven years, the secondary school level for four years, and the advanced secondary school level for two years.  Currently, there is a multifaceted primary school education in Tanzania composed of English Medium Schools (the very minority) from political and affluent families and those attending regular primary education (the majority). And Within the regular education system, the facility and staffing quality differences between schools in rural areas and those in urban areas are quite staggering.

Those attending regular primary schools in rural areas normally lack books, teaching aids, and are schooled in dilapidated teaching environment. Furthermore, they have teachers who are ill-prepared to teach the courses that are assigned to them to teach. Furthermore, there are no professional development opportunity for the teachers to engage in professional learning and development. Professional development activities that will enhance proficiency in their teaching, teaching methods, in the medium of instruction, and  finally mastery of content.

The teaching culture also needs to change to reflect the changing student needs. It should be reasonable for student to engage in a discussion with the teacher and other students without fearing retaliations. The fact that students are scared to ask questions in class is very troublesome. Teachers are supposed to be facilitators of children’s search for knowledge. It is the duty and responsibility of each teacher to encourage children to ask questions, to guide children in their thirsty and hunger for knowledge. How are children going to learn if they do not have the opportunity to ask questions? What type of citizens are we producing? Citizens who cannot ask questions? Citizens who cannot analyze issues? I always ask myself why we entirely depend on the people who failed to teach our kids. Failures produce failures in my book.

Change Requires Clear Vision

To counteract these issues, the government of Tanzania needs to be at the forefront. The government needs to develop goals on how the educations system in Tanzania should look like for the short and long term.

Questions like:

What knowledge is of most worth to the youth in Tanzania?

What research based-teaching strategies are best for achieving this knowledge?

What educational management model would be best for achieving the knowledge we seek to impart to our children?

Who will pay for the cost of providing this knowledge?

These questions needs to be asked and thoroughly explored. Without a clear plan, it will be impossible to measure if the education system is actually addressing the needs for the short and long terms. In assessing the education program we need to ask ourselves:

What our standard seven graduates need to know and  be able to do?

What our form four graduates need to know and be able to do?

What our Form Six graduates need to know and be able to do?

Further Issues to Explore: Why are Tanzanian Youngsters not Learning?

There is not a single answer to this question. Several factors contribute this issue in one way or the other.

Learning Activities

Learning activities used in most classrooms do not reflect the interests of children. We are still using teaching strategies that are outdated, non-engaging and based on memorization to teach children whose attention spans have changed over the years. Most of the digital-age children have very short attention and memory spans. Lecturing for hours without interactive activities, hands-on-activities, and experiential learning activities will not be beneficial to them. In my opinion, we cannot continue to teach non interactive lessons, lessons that don’t address children brain development theories, motivation theories, cognitive theories, and expect our children to learn. In addition, teacher absenteeism, lack of classroom resources, and pathetic salaries contribute to the failures seen.

Research to what interests our kids to learn is needed

I plea for Colleges “UDSM , SUA, and UDOM” to do research aimed at finding out what exactly interests our young people today. Our this is known, these colleges could be at the forefront in the development of curricula that reflects these interests. A bottom up approach  for developing curricula from the the school level, the district level, the regional level, and the country at large needs to be used. Matching students interests, intelligences, learning style preferences with instruction has been shown to improve students’ interests and academic performance.

Curricular Should be Regional Rather Than National

Tanzania is a huge country. Curricula diversification is very important.  What kids learn in Mtwara should reflect the challenges and opportunities available to them. Kids should learn through solving real life problems facing their community. What kids learn in Tabora, should reflect issues that are directly linked to their own society. We need to move past the one-size-fits-all mentality in education policy formulation, delivery, and especially the curricula itself.

The Age Factor

For primary education the age factor needs to be seriously discussed. In my views, Standard Seven graduates are indeed too young to participate meaningfully in any civil and citizenship responsibilities. For example, getting a job at the age of 13-to-14 years is almost impossible in the current work-force-system or structure in Tanzania. I certainly believe that raising the end of school age to Form Four for all will adequately help to give our youth enough time to grow physically, mentally, and academically for them to participate fully in their nation building work and in realizing their potentials.

Secondary School for All Kids

The money factor and the school structure needs to be discussed openly. Like I said earlier a bottom-up approach will do more good than harm. It will be a huge undertaking but it would be worth the effort in the end. Indeed, a whole generation of talented Tanzanians  are left behind with the current system. For example, I was one of those luck persons who passed the Standard Seven examination alone in my school. I do not believe that I was the smartest. I have no idea where the standard seven friends I left behind are doing right now. It is a shame that I left a lot of them behind to fend for themselves at the age of 13-to-14 years old.

Probably knowing the life time income differential between a primary school graduate and a secondary school graduate in Tanzania will help in narrowing down the options on which way to go. There are no data at the moment, however, I believe those who attends secondary schools will have an upper hand on this. Once it is known for fact that secondary school graduates earn more on average that primary school graduates, then, the government can be compelled to allow secondary education for all kids. If indeed, secondary school graduates make substantially more income over the course of their lives, then I am for expanding those opportunities to all our young men and girls.

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and Ballet Recitals


Image There are so many ways to spend your week-end here in Atlanta without going into your wallet. Don’t take this literally though, because you will have to shell some cash for gas, drinks, and food. For starters, there are numerous outdoor festivals going on each week-end; the many parks, lake Lanier activities, and the nearby (Smokey) Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. You can do it all if you happen to like a week-end filled with fun and excitement.Image

It has become our tradition to spend a week-end away from home every now and then during spring, summer, and fall. The weather is just too nice to spend the whole week-end in the gloomy and traffic ridden Atlanta. I am not trying to say that Atlanta’s week ends aren’t fun. I live in the city each and every-day and therefore a change of venue now and then is warranted.  I feel like week-ends are times well spent somewhere close to Mother Nature. Week-ends are timesImage to explore a different landscape, a different way of earning a living, a different of way of approaching the daunting task that is life.Image

Thus last week-end was no different. We took off Friday evening for a time on the slopes of the Smokey. A great a place to visit and to distress. There are plenty of hiking trails, river flows, and water-falls to see and indulge on. We had a blast! Probably we might consider the Smokey again before the summer gets-out.Image

On another note, yesterday evening was my daughter’s recitals for her ballet classes. So we rushed down from the Smokey after an early lunch so we can be with her and her friends. It was awesome. The dancers represented not only ballet dance but also all sorts of dances from around the globe. So, I will leave you with the photos of Pili from the recitals.

                  “While others accumulate things, I chose to accumulate memories

High Stakes Standardized Testing in America: The History


Are they being tested too much?
When is enough is enough?

This essay will explore the history of testing in American education, the introduction of standardized testing in American Secondary Education, the philosophical underpinning of these events, the historical perspectives, and the ethical standpoint that led to where we are today. In addition, the essay will also touch on the ontological perspectives, axiological perspectives, and the epistemological perspectives regarding testing and what it means for students to KNOW something that they were taught and how we measure/define knowing.

The frequency with which students are assessed for content understanding and general attainment of information has been rising in the American Education System (Madaus & Clarke, 2001). Currently in Most County Schools students are tested 8-14 times per semester. Those are just state and county mandated tests including benchmarks, Students’ Learning Outcomes (SLOs), and high school graduation tests. When teacher created tests and quizzes are included, an individual student taking a four class load in a block schedule would have been tested 20-25 times by the end of each semester. It is my belief that this frequency of testing is excessive. Subjecting students to this high frequency of testing and the magnitude some of these tests bear each testing period is ridiculous to say the least. In my view, I do not believe that the high-stakes tests and the frequency in which they are offered improve accountability for teachers, administrators or school districts. If this was the case, Finland would not be ranked number 1 in the world for science and mathematics since Finland only test its secondary students just twice in their secondary education careers (Washington Post, 2012).

In America, policymakers argue that in-order to improve students’ performance teacher, administrators, and school districts need to be held accountable for students’ achievement (Ravitch, 2002).  However, the frequency under which these tests are offered has been found to be associated with students not taking testing in general seriously anymore (Ravitch, 2002). Despite of the increase in testing frequency, American students’ scores when ranked with their peers in the developed world around the world has been declining steadily (Washington Post, 2012).

Testing and methods for measuring students understanding of content can be traced to the Socratic era in ancient Greece. During the Socratic era, students were asked to respond to questions posed by their instructor to gauge their understanding of concepts and to encourage their critical thinking. Socrates used a dialogue between himself and his students to gauge their understanding and to help them create their own understanding of concept. Even before Socrates, conversational dialogue was used to assess students’ understanding and knowing (Frost, 1989).

Testing in the American Education System was modeled after education systems in Europe.  Colonists brought the idea of testing with them when they founded schools in the newly formed United States (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). Testing can be traced directly to the one-room schools and the church schools in colonial America (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). Even apprenticeship schools used testing to gauge mastery of student’s learning. Testing was never used to evaluate the teachers’ effectiveness at that time and students who failed were deemed to be incapable of learning and therefore were subsequently left behind (Madaus & Clarke, 2001).

In the late 1800s, prestigious universities including Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Yale introduced college entrance examinations as a basis for admission.  Other universities did not have this requirement.  To further complicate the issue, each prestigious university had its own separate entrance exam.  The different requirements for admission at each of the universities, led school principals and parents to complain that is was difficult to prepare students for the multitude of college entrance exams at these universities.  To harmonize the process, the College Entrance Examination Board was created to prepare and oversee a single test for college admission (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). This was the beginning of the standardized tests phenomenon that we see today in the education system in America.

In the early 1900s teachers also were required to take entrance exams. But, once they were interviewed and offered a job with an interviewing panel that included a clergy and the local school board members, a teacher would never again be subjected to testing related to their performance, suitability and/or capacity to teach. Testing for results based accountability in the American education is a contemporary phenomenon (Ravitch, 2002).

Moreover, the early 1900s was a tumultuous time in education. This is the time when educational psychology was introduced into the education field. Education psychologists believe that there is a need to justify education as a scientific endeavor. Thus, demonstrating that education can be measured through experimentation and testing was a major aim of educational psychologists at the time.  The leading educational psychologist of the early 20th century, Edward L Thondike, was determined to demonstrate that education is an exact science through education testing. Most education psychologists of the 1920s and the 1930s were heavily interested in devising a testing instrument to help teachers diagnose students’ understanding of concepts and consequently to develop interventions based on data. However, the educational psychologists of the time never intended for their tests and data accumulated from the testing to be used for educational accountability.

The 1930s witnessed the Great Depression. Due to e economic hardship of the period, education progressives gained huge influence. They wanted schools to be friendly to students who were not interested in traditional schooling. Educational progressives of the time cared more about students’ adjustment in schools. The emphasis on a child’s social adjustment took the front seat over grades, subject mastery and discipline (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). They started using the testing instrument developed by educational psychologists to identify and develop remedial education for disinterested kids in schools. These educational progressive felt that education was a right for all children and believed in the philosophy that every child can learn. This era was the beginning of social promotion as we know it today. All these events happened at the time when there were no job to be had by high school dropout during the peak of the depression and therefore keeping kids in school was a better option at the time. The testing that was done during this period was mainly to inform teachers where students were and how to device learning goals to help them learn. The data collected had no bearing to student’s promotion nor was it used as a tool for evaluating the performance of teachers, administrators, or school districts.

The 1950s and early 1960s were a special time in American education. From the Sputnik report, the decisions of Wade vs. Board of Education, and the release of the book “What Ivan knows that Jonny Doesn’t?” created an atmosphere for educationists and policymakers to try to find answers to what was perceived to be going wrong with the education system in America (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). The reports, the book, and the decisions for equal education opportunities for all Americans lead in one way or another to the introduction of data driven accountability in the American Secondary Education System.

The report by sociologist James Coleman in 1966 entitled “Equality of Educational Opportunities” was the landmark report that started to pique the interest of policymakers in using achievement data to hold teachers, administrators, and districts accountable for student’s low performance. The report was significant in many ways including its emphasis on a shift from input oriented education system to results oriented education system. Prior to this report, educationalists believed that many of the low achieving problems in the school systems will eventually be eliminated through more funding. The Coleman report shifted the emphasis onto accountability. This shift led many policymakers to start examining how school resources affected student’s performance and achievement. The 1960s was a very interesting time in America. Events such as the civil rights movement provided most of the impetus to what was happening in the education system. The drive for education equality and opportunities for all Americans led to more scrutiny on student’s score data. The gap that existed and that continues to exist between white Americans and other minorities groups especially African Americans, pushed for accountability in education to improve achievement for the racially disadvantaged groups.

The establishment of the National Assessment of Education Progress and the Department of Education in the 1970s also led to a shift from inputs (resource) to outputs (results).  This shift was fueled by the readily available testing data which allowed policy makers to compare student achievement across regions and ethnic groups.  The international testing of mathematics and science provided even more data on how American secondary school students faired when compared to students from other industrialized nations. The fact that American students performed poorly on mathematics and science tests when compared to other industrialized countries added more pressure for policymakers to tie student’s achievement to teachers, administrators, and districts and to hold them accountable for poor student performance. 

The 1960s and 1970s also witnessed a growing tension between the professional educators who believed in the input model (resources will solve the underachievement problems) and the policymakers’ output model (results and accountability will drive instruction). Public pressures from parents, stakeholders and policymakers to see improvement in the low achievement scores among minority groups have kept the focus on using standardized testing for accountability. In the 2000s, laws like “The No Child Left Behind Act” and “Race To The Top,” new evaluation systems such as Teacher Keys were introduced.  These laws and evaluation systems placed renewed emphasis on using standardized testing as a mechanism for accountability.

Currently, there is a war between these two camps or paradigms in the American Education System. On one hand, the results from accountability and data driven evaluation have shown some promise in states such as Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina (Ravitch, 2002). The achievement gap between blacks and white students in these states has narrowed after the introduction of results based assessment for teachers, administrators, and school districts. However, elsewhere in the country the results are mixed, and in many states and districts across the country, the achievement gap between the racial groups—whites and Asians on one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other—is widening even faster.  On the other hand, professional educators argue that more resources are needed to narrow this achievement gap as educational budgets have been continually slashed over the past decade.

Presently, American education will continue to be dominated with these two paradigms: the professional education paradigm who believes increased resources will solve the problems and the policymaker paradigm who believes public education should follow the business model of incentives and sanctions based on performance. As the war wages on, whatever paradigm wins will determine the direction that the American education system will go. In my view, it is going to be very difficult to change the current testing culture to include performance-based assessment that measure what students’ can do. The pressure put forth by the testing companies, businesses and universities who are profiting magnificently from the current testing environment is too great for policymakers to ignore. I am most definitely sure that all the testing companies will join hands to fight tooth and nails whoever is trying to change the current system that is benefiting them greatly (Frediriksen, 1984).

While the battle rages on, both camps need to realize that:

  • Throwing money at education by and in itself rarely produce results. To achieve improvement system-wide, focused approach and long-term strategies are needed.
  • Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Treatment of teachers as valuable professionals including a living wage will be helpful.
  • The cultural assumptions and values surrounding education can do more to support or undermine it.
  • Education system should strive to keep parents informed and work with them. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviors of education.
  • Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly. Teaching for the present job opportunities is a disservice to our young people because most of jobs they will be working on are possibly not created yet.

There is no argument that knowledge is important.  The question, however, is how we assess that knowledge.  While in today’s school environment standardized testing is the main method utilized for assessing students’ knowledge, Socratic dialogue and other dialogue techniques is a better method for assessing student knowledge.  For the Greeks being able to articulate concepts and being  able to do the task or the skills associated with the learning experience was  a basis for ensuring students had adequately grasped the concepts conveyed by the teacher (Frost, 1989).  In contrast, standardized tests merely diagnose what students have learned on a prescribed curriculum rather than what they can do or perform (e.g. report writing, synthesizing information, conducting basic and advanced research topic).  These tests are therefore, limited in their ability to truly measure what students have learned during a course (Madaus & Clarke, 2001).

For me, the pendulum has swung too far over to using standardized tests as measures of accountability.  Instead, I would like to see more performance based testing used in the classroom which measures what students can do with their knowledge and less standardized testing which only simplistically measures recall of basic information.  Others, however, have argued that performance based assessment also has limitations including time constraints, resource constraints, and the training required to effectively assess students’ knowledge with these methods (Linn, 2013).  While I acknowledge these potential limitations, I firmly believe that performance based assessment is a critical component of a comprehensive assessment of student achievement based on my years of teaching. The use of standardized testing as the sole method for assessing student performance is inadequate and short sighted.  If we truly want to understand if students have absorbed the material and are able to apply this knowledge in their everyday lives, we need to include performance based testing as part of a comprehensive assessment strategy. 

 

 

Reference

Best Education in the World: Finland, South Korea Top World Rankings, U.S. Ranked Moderate (2012). Washington Post: Accessed: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/best-education-in-the-wor_n_2199795.html

Frederiksen, N. (1984). The real test bias: Influences of testing on teaching and learning.

          American Psychologist 39(2), 78-81.

Frost, S. E. (1989). Basic teachings of the great philosophers. Garden City, NY: Random House, Inc.

Madaus, G. F., & Clarke, M.(2001). The adverse impact of high stakes testing on minority students: evidence from 100 years of test data. In G. Orfield and M. Kornhaber (Eds.), Raising standards or raising barriers? Inequality and high stakes testing in public education. New York: The Century Foundation.

Ravitch, D.(2002). A brief history of testing and accountability. Accessed: http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/7286

Urban, J. W., & Wagoner, L. J.(2009). American education: A history. New York, NY:  Taylor & Francis.

Wiggins, G. (1989). A true test: Toward more authentic and equitable assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(9), 703-713.

Wiggins, G. (1988). Rational numbers: Scoring and grading that helps rather than hurts learning. American Educator, 20(25), 45- 48

 

 

Tanzania Form IV Results 2013: The Saga Continues!


The Tanzania form IV results 2013 are out and the picture they paint isn’t pretty. Let me get straight to the numbers first. The breakdowns by divisions are as follows:  division I-1,641; division 2-6,453; division 3- 15,426; division 4- 103,327, and division 0-240,903.  And the breakdown by gender for those who received divisions 1-3 are as follows: girls =7, 178 and boys = 16, 342.

Once again I have written and spoke about this trend for the past 3 years on the kibogoji blog. I guess you can read some of my previous posts on this issue to better inform yourself about the factors that have led to the scores to drop over the years. In some of those posts I attempted to offer solutions to this problem. Increasing the budget to education isn’t the solution, but most politicians in Tanzania seem to think and believe that it is.

On the numbers above, I feel like it is a letdown to women in Tanzania who have against all odds worked so hard to compete with men over the years and they had been doing really well on the education front. Looking at the gender disaggregated data, less than one half of the students who received divisions 1-3 are females. This is pathetic and is a major letdown to the women in Tanzania.

In this article I will not discuss what needs to be done from now forward. What I will say is this, action is needed and now.

Tanzanian Kids Going to School
Tanzanian Kids Going to School

This trend of failures cannot be sustained if the country wants to stay in the race to compete with other nations—academically, economically, and socially. I am damn sure that these results will prompt a knee jerk reaction through which committees will be formed and none in terms of their recommendations will be implemented.

It is high time for a reshuffle at the ministry level. The president cannot keep quiet no longer on the future of Tanzania, which is education to the youth. The minister and his high ranking files have failed to offer solutions to this problem for the past three years. Some heads need to roll.

Who will stand up and take responsibility for this if the president can’t do it? Can the good and law abiding citizens of Tanzania demand accountability? Accountability on how their tax money is spent? who spends it? and for what? To be exact, only 5.6% of those who sat for this exam got divisions 1-3 and the rest failed. That is 94.4%. Getting a division IV is equivalent to failing in my book—I do not know about you?

Swahili To Be The Language of Instruction in Tanzania.


Not so fast!!!

This debate comes and goes. The debate normally arise whenever secondary schools results comes out. And, it is especially true when students achievement scores are terrible. Educationists in Tanzania will normally and easily point their fingers to English as the culprit. The argument always goes like, “see, I told you so, we can’t test them in English. It is unfair to them. They don’t know English. Let us switch to Swahili alone as the medium of instruction.”

The argument above is flawed in several ways. One way of debunking this argument is by looking at primary school results. The pass rate there is not great either. In 2011 the numbers were 30% passing to 70% effective failures. In primary schools Swahili is the only medium of instruction for all subjects. If English is the only reason for all these massive failures at the secondary level, then, why are the primary school students failing miserably despite the fact that all subjects are taught in Swahili?

This shows  that it isn’t the language of instruction alone that is causing these massive failures.

As an educationalist myself, I knew all along that there are many variables that co-vary with the language of instruction. These may include: 1) teacher absenteeism, 2) a disconnect between the test and material taught, 3) lower pay, 4) instructional strategies used, 5) language of instruction, and the list doesn’t end there. Watch my Factors Affecting the Education System in Tanzania video on you tube under Kibogoji Conversations and read my other articles on the state of the education system in Tanzania here. In some of these articles I attempted to explain in detail the solutions to this year in and year out problem in exam achievement.

Here is a blog post with more information on the same subject. Click here to read the post.

To add salt to a wound, here are this year’s standard seven results as broken down by the IPP MEDIAs’ newspaper. Of-course, standard seven students are all taught in Swahili except for the subject of English. Below are the numbers showing how they did in the examination.

Total number of students who took the exam: 456,082.

Breakdown by gender: girls (52.68 per cent) and 409,745 boys (47.32 per cent).

Of those who passed: 3,087 candidates scored grade A, 40,683 grade B, 222,103 grade C.

Total pass rate: 265,873 (30%).

Of those who failed: 526,397 grade D, 73, 264 grade E.

Total failure rate: 599,661 (70%).

From all this data, one can conclude that the evidence is overwhelming. The evidence clearly indicate that English is not the only variable that is ailing the Tanzanian education system. Maybe it is the right time to say that Swahili is the cause of all these massive failures. I believe it is high time to ask ourselves what are the causes (a variety of them) of the under-performance rather than looking for a single cause. When we ask ourselves the right questions, we normally come up with the right answers to complex problems such as this one.

 

Scientific Cheating Catalog: The Mismeasure of Man


Scientific Cheating Catalog: The Mismeasure of Man

The book “the mismeasure of man” chapters 3 and 4, Gould discusses further some of the ways that scientists have cheated either intentionally or unintentionally. I have cataloged some of those instances I found to be fascinating in these two chapters below.
1) Francis Galton (1822-1911) was Darwin’s cousin. He used numbers to construct the so called beauty map of the British Isles and he also suggested a method for quantifying boredom. He could back up his methods by numbers; however as we all have come to know–interpreters of numbers as Galton was are often times trapped by their own priori convictions (page 107).
2) Robert Bennett Bean in 1906 published a long technical article comparing the brains of American blacks and whites. He was a practicing physician and through his research he found –according to him, meaningful differences in that black are inferior to whites. He used the relative sizes of the parts of the corpus callosum to justify that blacks are inferior to whites since they have smaller genu, hence less brain in the front seat of intelligence (page 109).
3) Paul Broca (1861) was a professor of clinical surgery in the faculty of medicine and the founder of the Anthropological Society of Paris in 1859. He was the strongest supporter of the ideas that brain sizes constituted the differences in intelligence among the races. Again, even after extensively restudying Morton’s method, Broca still was another victim of his own preconceived notion about blacks. He and the society he lived in held deep beliefs that blacks were an inferior race (page 114-125).
4) E. D. Cope was the most celebrated American paleontologist who came up with the idea of recapitulation. In recapitulation the idea is that adults of inferior groups (i.e., blacks) are like children of superior groups (i.e., white male). Cope identified 4 groups of human forms following this criterion: nonwhite races, all women, southern as opposed to northern European whites, and lower classes within superior races (page 144).
5) B. Kidd used the recapitulation argument to justify colonial expansion into tropical Africa. He wrote “dealing with peoples who represent the same stage as that of children in the history of the development of individuals in the white race. The tropics will not, therefore, be developed by the natives themselves”. To that end, recapitulation is indeed still used in many circles in the west as a justification for imperialism and economic colonization of Africa (page 147).
This does remind me of the many things I have heard and seen on TV this and many years past. I will use the past presidential election as an example. If you happened to watch MSNBC and Fox news simultaneously, you would have thought the election was too close to call. Each of these TV news channels had their own statisticians manipulating the numbers to meet the expectations of the pre-conceived notions of their viewers. For Fox news, Mitt Romney was a winner long before the election-day and for MSNBC news, Obama was a declared winner weeks ahead of the election-day. This shows how prior convictions can have a huge impact on the way data is collected and computed to fit the fore mentioned prior notion.
In addition, another contentious today’s issue that priori conviction is at play is global warming. Global warming is one of those issues that scientific consensus has almost been reached. However, you still have few scientists who are using data from geological times to justify the fact the earth has cooled and warmed in times past and that, perhaps what we are experiencing now—might just be one of those natural circles. Therefore, there should be no cause for concern.
On the other hand you have scientists who have accumulated great amount of data supporting the argument that global warming is caused by excessive burning of fossil fuel causing the accumulation of greenhouse gasses. I am leaning on the latter camp. It might be just because of the environment awareness time that I am in and if the former a proven to be collect—future generations will debate this issue in light of our prior conventions the same way we are talking about scientists such as Broca and their ideas regarding biological determinism and inferiority of the blacks and other minority races to whites.
To conclude, most of the research we are conducting as researchers today are somewhat clouded by our own views and the societal expectations of the time—our time. Yes, better scientific method have been developed to minimize the effect of priori conventions in data collection and interpretations through the development of the scientific method, but still as we are humans, our prior notions most times shows up in the results sections. Therefore, numbers alone are not all that important at all if confounded with prior-convictions.
Reference
Gould, J. S. (1996). The mismeasure of man. New York: NY. W.W. Norton &Company, Inc.

Transformation Theories: A Reflection


By: Shaaban Fundi
In this essay I will discuss transformative theory of learning through four different lenses or approaches. These approaches include Mezirow’s psychocrtitical approach/theory, Daloz’s psychodevelopmental perspectives, Paulo Freire’s sociocultural theory and Boyd’s psychoanalytical approach. I will then, discuss the similarities and differences among these four lenses of transformative learning. Furthermore, I will discuss my views regarding the theories of transformative learning and to whether or not the theories have changing my world view (epistemology) over the years.

Mezirow (1997) defines transformative learning as the process that affects change in persons’ frame of reference. He argues that adults have over the years developed experiences that define their world. Because of this body of experience we tend to “reject ideas that fail to fit our preconceptions” (Mezirow, 1197, p.5). In Mezirow’s psychocritical approach, meaning structures are differentiated into three categories–frame of reference, habits of mind and point of view. In addition, for transformative learning to take place Mezirow argues that transformation must take place in our belief system, attitude and our entire perspectives. And, experience, critical reflection, reflective discourse, and action are central phenomenon in Mezirow’s psychocritical transformative learning theory.
Despite a well-developed theory put forth by Mezirow, critics argue that there is too much overreliance on rationality. According to Merrian, 2004 (as cited on Merrian, S., Caffarerra, R., & Baumgartner, L, 2007, p.136) “one’s cognitive development may influence his or her ability to experience a perspective transformation.” Thus, refuting rationality as the major cause of transformative learning.

According to Daloz, 1986 education is a transformational journey geared at enhancing development in an individual. The focus of transformation in Daloz’psychodevelopmental perspective relies on stories of the journey that someone takes to expand his or her world view. Dialogues and discourse are integral part of the transformation process his perspectives. On the other hand, Boyd “sees transformation as an inner journey resulting into greater personal consciousness (Merrian at al., 2007, p. 139). Boyd also places greater emphasis on the importance of dialogue or discourse for transformation to occur.
The major similarity amongst all these three theories of transformational learning is that they all place a greater emphasis on the discourse and/or dialogue. The difference between Boyd’s perspectives and Mezirow’s theory are that Boyd focused on the importance of stories on the journey towards transformation and Mezirow does not.

The last theory of transformation I will briefly discuss is the sociocultural transformation learning theory by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. His theory emerged from the context of poverty, illiteracy, and oppression and focuses mainly on social change. Paulo classifies consciousness in three categories: i) magical (no control over own life, everything is externally influenced), ii) Midway (people starting understanding that they have some level of control and can change their circumstances), iii) critical consciousness (people are fully aware of forces that shape one’ life) (Merrian at al., 2007, p.141).
Central to all the four theories of transformational learning is the idea that through dialogue and/or discourse a person involved in a transformative learning experience can move to a frame of reference that is “more inclusive, discriminating, self-reflective, and integrative of all experiences” (Mezirow, 1997, p. 5). I see myself going through this transformation, especially in the sociocultural view point. Over the years I was stuck in the mindset that the problems in my community were too big and I thought too much external forces beyond my control were at play. But as I engaged in self-reflection and dialogue with others, I am now seriously thinking that most of the problems I have seen and continue to see in my community have solutions from within rather than from without.

I will highlight one issue here as an example. The village I grew up in, does not have a library or a computer center where young people and others can access information. There are three secondary schools and one teacher’s college in the area. I looked at the problem and felt helpless in the beginning. But, last year I decided to take action and started to collect used laptop and desktop computers from friends and co-workers for a small learning center. I named the center Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc. Currently I have 7 computers and bought enough bricks to build just a single room for the center. It is not operational yet, but I feel like this will no longer be a problem in my village the near future.

This example shows the power of transformation through education. It is imperative through education to understand forces that shape one’s life and in the process to become an active agent of change by creating a more just reality for all. I have changed from the mindset that external forces are in charge (the blame game) to becoming a person that will transform part of my previous world. Thanks to education and its transformative forces.

I am trying to instill this kind of transformative education to my students. Teaching them not just lecture hall related subjects but also “teaching them the ability to lift themselves by rethinking and reconfiguring their frame of reference.” To achieve this transformative education, I use research based and theory derived teaching strategies such as blending gizmos with tradition teaching to empower students to create their own meaning from text and/or concepts (Shunk, 2012, p.293).

Reference

Shunk, D. H.(2012). Learning theories:An educational perspectives (6th. Ed.). New York: Pearson.
Merrian, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74

Savannah: Georgia Educational Researchers Association Conference Reflections


In this essay I will reflect on one educational topic presented I at the Georgia Educational Researchers Association (GERA) 2012 conference in Savannah, Georgia. I will discuss what I thought was interesting in the presentation and also discuss the applicability of the research to my own teaching and research.

Friday morning I attended several presentations. The presentation I will reflect on was an evaluation research presentation. We all know that professional development training for teachers happens in many places throughout the year in the state of Georgia. As it is customary, Many of the training are immediately followed by an evaluative survey to gauge how the participants viewed the training usefulness and applicability. Most of the evaluative surveys at the end of each training sessions have questions such as: 1) on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied were you with the training? 2) will you recommend the training to others?, and 3) did you learn anything useful from the training? Off course many other useful questions are also asked in these surveys besides the ones mentioned.

In the presentation I attended, the presenters argued that as good as these survey questions maybe at assessing participants’ levels of satisfaction with the training, they don’t go far enough to assess the usefulness of the training in changing practice. The presenter further argued that, if a researcher want to understand whether the trainings are achieving their intended goals, that is influencing best practices at the work place–then they need to go a little further in their evaluative research by visiting training participants in their work places to observe and see whether or not practices are actually changing as a result of the training participants received.
The Presenter had done a research evaluating the effectiveness of training and/or professional development at changing practices. She did an evaluation of a middle school training session on the use of best practices to teach science in middle schools. The training was aimed at teaching middle grade science teachers to use discovery learning approaches in their classrooms. The researchers asked attendees to fill out a survey asking them about their satisfaction with the training and whether or not they will use the best practices learned in their own work places.

The finding from the survey was that a significant numbers of training participants are not using the best practices learned during the training. However, approximately 87% of respondents were satisfied with the training and expressed that they will more likely than not use the teaching methods in their classrooms. When the researcher visited the participants at their work place– only 15% were using or trying to use best practices methodology of teaching in their classes. The findings from this study shows how difficult it sometime is to get educators’ buy in in implementing innovative teaching methods.
For my experience, I have attended numerous professional development in my teaching career, I have not really integrated wholly what I learned in a single training session into my classroom or lecture hall. I feel as though educators attending training session, most often pick and choose what is more important to their teaching and leave the other information that they don’t find interesting and/or useful in their own situations. Training effectiveness evaluators need to realize that most educators are not going to adopt each and every single segment of the training information into their daily practice. More likely than not, they will take what is useful to them and use that rather than adopting the entire new system into their own. There are various reasons contributing to this phenomenon from the educators’ point of view: 1) like many educators, I somewhat believe that if it is working why change it? 2) I feel like traditional educators would not like discovery learning approaches as it takes away authority from them and hands autonomy to students, 3) most schools are concerned more with students’ scores in standardized tests; therefore more emphasis is put into teaching to the test rather than teaching for understanding.

Furthermore, the challenges of implementing a discovery learning approach in a classroom are many. In my own experience, it takes more time to create lesson plans centered in the constructivist learning approaches such as discovery learning as compared to traditional learning approaches. Most often constructivist teaching approaches create classrooms that are louder because of the amount of discussions that are instrumental in meaning making for students. Therefore, creating classroom rules and procedure early on is paramount. In this type of learning, students become autonomous and also take more responsibility of their own learning.

I attended many presentations at the conference, but I was really interested in understanding whether professional development sessions have a positive impact on changing the way educators teach. The evidence from this research suggests that most teachers do not change the way they teach from attending just a single training session. It is possible that more teachers will adapt these learning methods if trainings are conducted over a long period of time or done in chunks.

Overall, I feel that GERA is a very informative conference for teachers and educational researchers. I enjoyed spending time with like minded educators and observing how other educational researchers go about conducting and presenting their findings. Most of all, it was a perfect opportunity to connect, build friendship, and long lasting connections for future research and job opportunities. I am already looking forward to next year!

Andragogy: My Education Philosophy


I believe that education is a collaborative process between the educator and the students. I feel that educators should recognize that students bring their own experience and skills to the classroom. In other words educators should view their students as active partners in the learning process and not as passive participants. In so doing, the educator and the students can learn from each-other to enhance content and general knowledge understanding for both parties. In this essay, I will present a brief overview of my personal belief about education and educating students, I will explain my views on what roles educators should play and what roles students should play to making learning a meaningful experience for both students and educators.

First, I believe that the role of an educator is to introduce students to new ideas and skills and then assist them in integrating those ideas and skills into their own experiences. I am not fond of the uni-directional learning approach whereby the educator imparts knowledge to the learner. Instead I subscribe to the bi-directional learning approach whereby the educator and students work hand in hand/together to discover knowledge and meaning. In this era of multiple accesses to information, educators cannot be and should not try to be the sole source of information to students. In fact, educators should use different type of presenting information to students such as lecture, video, computer related technologies, guest speakers and field trips.

In addition, educators should help students to think through issues critically. And challenge students to see the relevance of education to their lives. By doing so, the educator would cultivate a student culture that values new information and also are able to integrate the skills and ideas they have learned into their own world view and perspectives. In addition, educators should foster a lifelong love of learning in their students that will continue on long after class has ended.

Second, educators have a responsibility to create an environment in the classroom that encourages students to actively participate in their learning. Students should be made to feel that it is safe to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of reprisals from either the educator or other students. I strongly believe that this is one of the responsibilities of a reflective and professional educator. And again, without creating an environment of mutual respect between the educator and the students; and amongst the students themselves, no real learning will happen. Therefore it is paramount for educators to take their responsibilities serious and to create a classroom environment and culture that is conducive and receptive to learning for all. For instance, the educator is responsible for setting the tone of all discussions as one of mutual respect where everyone’s ideas are viewed as important contribution. It is important that the educator create an atmosphere where certain students-whether because of race, gender, national origin, or educational attainment- do not feel marginalized. All students should feel equally valuable to the learning process.

Third, educators also have the responsibility to come fully prepared for the classroom session. I believe that educators have the responsibility to fully research the topic and have a good grasp of the subject matter before making any demonstration and/or presentation to the students. Being well prepared helps an educator to reduce a lot of the commotion and misbehavior issues that impedes students’ learning. Educators have the responsibility to develop clear, straightforward presentations of material that can be easily understood by students. Educators should facilitate student participation by encouraging students to ask questions throughout the presentation and by pausing at specific junctures to ask students their thought and/or opinion on the material. The learning material needs to be chunked-up and delivered in a way that meets the multiple learning styles and needs of the students. Educators should make their lessons and all the learning activities relevant to their students’ lives and interests.

Undoubtedly, technology and other social media usage in the classroom help students to stay engaged and on task throughout the lesson. Therefore, educators should use multiple teaching strategies to meet all their students’ learning needs inside and outside the class sessions. Tapping into the social media can potentially be a helpful learning experience for both the students and the teachers. Currently there are several social media gadgets that are educator and student friendly. These gadgets can be used to provide instant assessment and feedback to student and also to keep students interest in the lesson for the entire length of the period.

In terms of students’ responsibilities to the learning process, first, I think that students have a responsibility to be prepared when they come to class by doing the necessary readings, and bringing the required supplies. I also believe that they have the responsibility to be active participants in their own learning. Students who are well prepared for class by doing the necessary reading and by attending tutorials generally do better on tests and quizzes. They also appear to really enjoy the course and the material presented in class. This is just speaking from my own observations and experience as a classroom/lecture hall educator.

Second, students must also be willing to critically examine their own attitudes and be open to new ideas and ways of viewing the world. Students, who are open to new information, will likely be able to integrate the new information into their own realm of thinking. Therefore, it is crucial for students to not be closed minded as in doing so they fail to acquire new skills and information necessary for them to grow academically and professionally.

Third, students must be willing to engage in the discussions and work together with the teacher and other students to challenge their pre-conceived notions and expand their knowledge base. It is imperative for students to be able to share their experiences among themselves and with the teacher during group discussions. This will not only foster a sense of belonging in the class but will also help the students to integrate the new skills into their own frame of reference and therefore building a deeper meaning of what they are learning.

Thus, learning in one hand is a collaborative process in which students and educators have unique roles to play. The educator must be well informed about the subject matter and the pedagogy that drives the instruction. In addition, the educator must be able to create a conducive and respectful environment for-all-in-the classroom and should foster students’ learning using a variety of learning and teaching strategies. On the other hand, students should be willing to critically examine their own altitude and be open to new ideas and ways of viewing the world around them. For example, students should be willing to engage in the discussions and work together with each other and the teacher to challenge their pre-conceived notions and expand their knowledge base.

Learning and Teaching Theories: A Critique


Lecture hall instruction needs to be derived from learning theories. But, in reality this is not happening. Educators either do not have the time to use theory to drive instruction or have no basic understanding of the learning theories. In this essay I will discuss and critique the article titled “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Conctructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective by Peggy Ertmer and Timothy Newby and chapter 11of the book entitled “Traditional Learning Theories” from the book entitled “Learning in Adulthood” by Sharan Merrian, Rosemary Caffarella and Lisa Baumgartner. In my discussion I will provide the relevant information gleaned from both readings and offer my own analysis of the learning theories as they relate to my own learning and teaching experiences. I will include examples from my own experiences to tie together the different learning theories to what is really happening in lecture halls across America in the days of data driven instruction.

The authors’ of the article point out the need of finding a bridge to connect learning theories to educational practices (Ertmer and Newby, 1993). They suggest that instructional designers could use this bridge to create good instructional activities based on the relevant learning theories. It is therefore paramount for instructional designers to understand the situations under which the developed instructional materials and/or activities will be used in order to facilitate optimal learning. Without such an understanding, it would be difficult for instructional designers to create learning materials and activities that would be useful to practitioners and learners (Ertmer and Newby, 1993).

According to Ertmer and Newby, the matching of instructional learning materials and activities to the varying situational and contextual needs of the learners and practitioners is not happening in the majority of colleges today. A study by Johnson (1992) supports this view by stating that “less than two percent of the courses offered in University curricula in the general area of educational technology emphasize theory as one of their key components.” This shows that instructional designers who create college courses either do not have a firm understanding of the learning theories or ignore using them all together when designing and creating the course curriculum and materials.

In order to design optimal instructional materials and/or learning activities the authors of the “Learning in Adulthood” book argue that an instructional designer needs to have a basic understanding of learning theories and being able to incorporate relevant information from a variety of learning theories in the designing process. The learning theories discussed in the article and chapter 11 of the book are cognitivism, behaviorism, humanism, social cognitism, and constructivism. In addition, the authors caution that using only a single theory will not suffice the needs of all learners and practitioners. The authors recommend a careful selection of the concepts and principals from the learning theories that meet the need of instructional situation (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

As illustrated in the text, each theory plays a fundamental role in developing beneficial learning materials. Behaviorists believes that learning occurs when a response is produce from a given environmental stimulus (ertmer & Newby, 1993). For example, a teacher asks a question (an environmental stimulus) and a student answer the question (demonstrable response). Behaviorists are more concerned with the stimulus and the response. They put little emphasis on how the brain processes information. Consequently, the learner is presumed to not take an active role in learning their environment. They are merely reactive to conditions in the environment (Winn, 1990).

The second learning theory is humanism. In humanism the theorists believe that humans can control their own destiny (Rogers, 1983). The emphasis in humanism is that human can be whatever they want to be. There are no external forces that control your destiny but yourself. The third theory is cognitivism. In cognitivism, prior knowledge and the memory system plays important part in learning (Gredler, 1997, p.144).Therefore, cognitive theorists describe learning as involving the re-arrangement of our memory system to make sense of the external stimuli. The fourth theory is social cognitivism. In social cognitivism, the agreement is that people learn from observing others. According to founding theorist Shunck, people acquire knowledge through observing other. Social cognitive theorists believe that attention, retention, behavior rehearsal and motivation are the most important aspect in observational learning (Shunk, 1993). The fifth theory is constructivism. Constructive theorists believe that “individual creates meaning from his or her own experience” (Jonassen, 1991b). According to Jonassen “humans creates meaning as opposed to acquiring it”. This means our minds have the ability to filter environmental stimulus to create our own unique understanding or reality.

Taking the theorists into consideration, the following are real life or classroom implications. Educators focus on text and behavior management. This leaves little time for learning or studying the learning theories and applying them in their classrooms or lecture halls. In my experience as an educator I have never had the opportunity to learn in depth the learning theories that were in the reading assignment for this week. It was an eye opening experience to read the different learning theories and understanding what their tenets were. I can describe this experience this way—I had some ideas on how to create learning materials and learning activities, but I never had an idea that there were actual theories governing the process of learning. It was as if I was wearing unclean prescription glasses before I read these theories and now I feel like wearing clean prescription glasses. I can see clearly the different learning experience I have seen in the past and being able to place them in the context of the five learning theories.

Since I started teaching I feel like the school systems I have worked under are all based on the behaviorism theory. There is more emphasis on “outcome” rather than cognitive understanding of learning materials and activities. This is evident in the No Child Left Behind Act and in the Race To The Top ideas where the emphasis is on measurable outcomes. Little or no emphasis is put on making sure that student can create their own experiences and realities through social interaction and learning from others.

Even the new teacher assessment system (Teacher Keys) relies heavily on students’ assessment (an outcome measure) regardless of the composition of the students in the teacher’s class. It is like apples and oranges when you compare the scores of a teacher that teaches gifted and advanced placement only classes with those of a teacher teaching general only classes. How are you going to normalize the teacher keys to accommodate the multitude of teachers with completely different teaching assignments and projected outcomes? It is an unfair system in my view that uses the one-fits-all tenet. These behaviorists’ approaches are applied in a situation without regard to the situational needs of each educator and student.

In conclusion behavior based theory is a common place in our education system. It starts with how the learning materials (the questions, practice and answers model) are developed to how students are assessed. In my view an approach that uses a combination of all or most of the learning theories will be desirable in producing learning materials and learning activities that will lead to optimal learning experiences for the students. In addition, teacher keys that are situational cognizant need to be developed to meet the varying working environmental of the different instructors. Therefore, it is imperative to design both learning materials and assessment tools that are derived from the best practices from the various learning and teaching theories.

Stone Mountain, Georgia


We try to get out every week end and do something outdoors. This week end was nothing short of fantastic. Starting with the vintage car show in our neighborhood and ending with a trip to the top of Stone Mountain Park. The temperatures are currently dipping and it’s nice to be out to enjoy nature. We started our week end with a lazy Sunday morning just lounging in the game room. Thereafter, we decided to get out and go see what is happening at the famous Stone Mountain Park.

Pollinating I don't know what?
Pollinating I don’t know what?

Stone Mountain is the largest granite rock in the world (if you can believe that!). It is located on highway 78 just outside the city of Atlanta. There are tons of things to do around the park: from nature hikes, fishing, train rides, sky-rides, and numerous boats rides on the waterways surrounding this ginormous granite rock.

Face Painting
Face Painting

We used to take the kid here every week ends when she was little. She is no longer enthused by the swings and the nature walks in in the park. She thinks she too BIG now.

Looking at the Carvings
Looking at the Carvings

This Sunday we decided to back mainly for two things: 1) the pumpkins festival and 2) the sky ride—because it was a perfect day for it. We arrived at the park around 12 noon. It was almost impossible to find a parking spot on the main parking area. We circled the park a few times, but luck enough we were able to get a parking spot.

The biggest stone carving in the Universe
The biggest stone carving in the Universe

We spent almost 2.30 hours just doing the pumpkin festival. The kid was having so much fun with the dress-up activities, the face paintings and a scavenger hunt. It was just beautiful all around.

Stone Mountain
Stone Mountain

At around 4pm we decided to buy our tickets to get on the sky-ride. It looked as though people were having so much fun with it. The sky was clear and you could see all the way to downtown Atlanta. We got in the sky ride and went up to the top. The journey was not eventful but amazing in its own way. We got to the top and spent some time just taking pictures and taking in the views from way up.

Pumpkin reprenting the ATL
Pumpkin reprenting the ATL
Pumpkins Festival Stone Mountain, GA
Pumpkins Festival Stone Mountain, GA

What a nice way to spend a week end!

Antique Car Show, Embry Hills, Georgia


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First I will admit my ignorance to cars—new and olds. Today I took a spin in my neighborhood just looking for something beautiful to take a shot of. An expectedly I ran into a car show. This is an annual event where people showcase their vintage cars. It was beautiful all around.

Enjoy the shots and a happy beautiful Saturday in Atlanta. It’s gorgeous out-there!

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
The Steering Wheel
The Steering Wheel
Anaother Beauty
Anaother Beauty
For Sale $5500
For Sale $5500
The Horns
The Horns
Chrome Shinning!
Chrome Shinning!
Cadillac Beauty
Cadillac Beauty
The Lights are Amazing
The Lights are Amazing
No Words
No Words
Fairlane
Fairlane
Another Cutie
Another Cutie
Pretty Faces
Pretty Faces

I like the colors and the contrast in this picture

Historical Examples of Scientific Cheating: The Mismeasure of Man


Chapter one of the book entitled The Mismeasure of Man discuss various issues related to the concept called biological determinism. According to Gould (1996) biological determinism is a belief that races, classes, and sexes are biologically determined. This concept tries to justify that “social and economic differences between human groups” are inheritable, inborn, and that “people at the bottom of the social economic ladder are constructed by poor materials i.e. poor brains, bad genes, or whatever”. In addition, the author caution against an over-reliance on data collected by socially biased scientists to justify the existence of biological determinism. He argued that scientists are subjected to an undue influence by their own culture. Therefore, whatever scientific truth the scientists tries to seek, how they go about collecting data, and how they go about interpreting the data–is somewhat influenced by their social and cultural prejudices. Overall, objectivity and truth are highly influenced by societal norms and cultural context.

Several scientists in the history of science have cheated in one way or another. I will mention some of them in the following paragraphs.
The first instance of scientific cheating either intentionally or unintentionally mentioned in the book was by Cyril Burt who documented fabricated data compiled by a nonexistent Ms. Conway on IQ of identical twins (Gould, 1996, p. 52 &59). The second scientific cheating mentioned in the book was by Goddard who altered photographs of the Kallikaks to suggest mental retardation. According to Gould (1996), Goddard’s fraud was mainly caused by social prejudice and clearly demonstrates a conscious attempt to falsify data to fit societal expectations. The two examples of historical scientific cheating are all mentioned the first chapter of the book.

In chapter two, the author discusses the craniometrical theory—“the first biological theory supported by an extensive amount of falsely collected and interpreted data in favor of biological determinism (Gould, 1996, p. 63). The cultural and political milieu of the eighteen and nineteen century hugely influenced the views on race. In this era most people believed on racial ranking “with Indians below whites and blacks below everybody else” (Gould, 1996, p.63). Within this context, two groups existed in the western world, the so called hard-liner who believed that blacks were inferior. In their views this was justification enough for blacks’ enslavement and colonization. The other group, the so called the soft-liners supported the views that blacks were inferior, however they were in favor of people’s right to freedom despite their societal prejudice against blacks.

Another instance of scientific cheating was that done by Etiene Serres, a famous French medical anatomist who collected data on the distances between the navel and penis during human development–from childhood to adulthood. He found out that the navel migration was longer for whites than in blacks. He therefore concluded that backs were inferior to whites. Based on the data, he came up with the theory of recapitulation—“the idea that higher creatures repeat the adult stages of lower animals during their own growth—suggesting that blacks are still in the babe stage and Chinese were at the juvenile stage ” (Gould, 1996, p. 72). In addition, Charles White, an English surgeon used craniometrical data to support the idea of polygeny—origin from many sources—in his 1799 book called the Account of Regular Gradation in Man. He abandoned Bufoni’s definition of species based on interbreeding resulting to viable offspring and rallied on the idea that climate influenced racial differences” (Guild, 1996, p. 73).

Louse Agassiz was another scientist who spent a lot of time as a spokesman for the polygenic theory. He never generated any data to support his claims on the theory. I think he was either pressured by his colleagues at Harvard or his encounter with blacks in America made him abandon his biblical orthodox of a single Adam in favor of many Adams—one for each race.

Other scientists who intentionally cooked the book to advance the societal norm of black inferiority in the western hemisphere are Samuel George Morton and S.A. Cartwright. Cartwright Identified two diseases for black slaves, 1) drapetomania—“the insane desire for slaves to run away” and 2) dysesthesia, “a disease of inadequate breathing”. He used the two diseases as criterion for keeping slaves into permanent enslavement. Lastly but not least, Morton painstakingly collected skulls to measure brain volumes. He collected craniometrical data from skulls of whites, blacks, Indians and Mongolians. He found that the brain sizes were highest for whites and smallest for blacks hence justifying the ranking of the races. Conversely, he had major flaws on how he collected the data—“procedural omission, subjectivity directed to prior prejudice, inconsistencies and criteria shifting and a lot of miscalculations” to making data fit his predetermined notion that black were inferior to all the races (Gould, 1996).

References
Gould, S. J. (1996). The mismeasure of man. New York. United States: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Apple Picking at Hillcrest Orchards, Ellijay, Georgia


Apple
Each year we celebrate the fall season in various ways. The fall season bring the best weather and its best to spend the fall days on the outside before winter sets in. To enjoy the nice weather, we decided to go apple picking in the Georgia Mountains today. The drive scenery was fantastic. The trees are already changing color bringing that beautiful look on the mountains. Don’t sit there and wait, the seasons and the beautiful fall colors will disappear before you know it.
Pili and I taking a bite

Pili enjoying the weather
Pili enjoying the weather
Roasted Corn on the Cob
Roasted Corn on the Cob
I thought that it was funny--Read the top.
I thought that it was funny–Read the top.
The Mountain View
The Mountain View
The Moonshine Museum
The Moonshine Museum (Museum wa Gongo).
The ingredients for making moonshine (Gongo).
The ingredients for making moonshine (Gongo).
Horse Carriage Rides
Horse Carriage Rides
Pig Races and the winner is Spam-mela Anderson
Pig Races and the winner is Spam-mela Anderson
Various Types of Apples
Various Types of Apples
Bye Bye!
Bye Bye!

Does The Post Racial Society Really Exists? White Teeth: A Novel By Zadie Smith.


By: Shaaban Fundi

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The book White Teeth by Zadie Smith is about a mixed-race couple and an immigrant family life in London. Many of the controversy in the book deal with issues of identity and social class in a post racial society. Smith shows many provocative themes related to science, technology, history and religion. The book starts with Archibald Jones fighting alongside a Bengali Muslim, Samad Iqbal in the English army during WWII, and the two developing an unlikely bond. The bond intensified when Samad relocated to Archie’s native London. Smith tries to recapture their friendship through marriage, parenthood and the shared disappointments of poverty and dreams deferred.

Later in the novel Archie weds a Jamaican bride Clara. In the midst of their marriage, along came their “very interesting” daughter Irie. Achie’s friend Samad also get married, around the same time—to a wife named Alsana. Alsana and Samad were blessed with twin sons, Millat and Magid. After struggling to raise the two sons together, the parents decided to send Magid back to their homeland Bangladesh simply because living in a new country has pressures: 1) new country ways, and 2) the old religious traditions of his homeland was in disagreement with the new country ways. But, they kept Millat in England. However, Millat fell into delinquency and then adopted the ways of the new country which caused severe conflicts in the household.

Since the move, Magid becomes interested in genetic engineering, a science that Samad and Alsana rejected. Within the novel, Smith contrasts Samad’s faith in providence with Magid’s desire to seize control of the future. She involves all of her characters in a debate concerning past, present, determinism, and accidental life. The tooth, half root, half protrusion makes a perfect climax in this novel. She makes a remarkable examination of the immigrant’s experience in a postcolonial world. Dealing with the woes of adaption of a new land, and the principles of what was instilled within them in their home countries and culture.

The first theme I encountered was the marriage of Archie Jones to a black immigrant from Jamaica. This is significant because I considered her to be an immigrant just like Samad, Millat and their kids within the story. This opened up a fascinating tale. Dealing with something very new, verses something that has been instilled within them. The same holds true for their kids–Ire, Magid and Millat were all born in England. However, they are all not acknowledged in their own country because of their skin tone.

Another significant theme I saw in the book was how Magid lost his sense of “Heritage.” He was sent back to Bangladesh to grow up with the culture of his parents’ native land. He wound up more English than the English themselves. His twin brother Millat who stayed in England, was caught up in an ultra-Moslem activist group (with the acronym “KEVIN”). This showed how “brain-washed” he had gotten, even though his parents were just trying to create the best life for their son.

The last significant theme that I thought made the book wonderful was the parallels between the cross-pollination of plants and the random mixing of human genes and cultures. Despite the evident prejudice within London depicted in the book regarding heritage, culture, and ethnic background– the diversity leads to a healthy and strong society in the end. Take home–we all have white teeth despite the color tones on our skins.

Practice Fall Shots.


Many people who are interested in photography like myself understand that often times we miss the opportunity for great shots because we are too involved looking for great photographic moments elsewhere. The moments that we plan for and go searching for are sometimes in our own backyards. And We forget that there are numerous photographic moments to be discovered where-ever we are.

Today, I decided to do something different. I decided to just point my Nikon D3100 to capture “things” around my backyard and see what the products will be. I am really impressed with the pics and the detail I was able to capture in some of them. Here are the shots welcoming the fall season. Enjoy!

Black N White Shot of the Neighborhood

The Deck Wall
The Deck Wall

Exterior Lamp Post
Exterior Lamp Post

Early Fall Flowers
Early Fall Flowers

Early Fall Flowers in Black N White
Early Fall Flowers in Black N White

Hanging Top
Hanging Top

Hanging Top
Hanging Top

Backyard Oil Lamp
Backyard Oil Lamp

Backyard Ground Lamp
Backyard Ground Lamp

Fall Flowers
Fall Flowers

Fall Flowers
Fall Flowers

Weed in the Backyard
Weed in the Backyard

Flower Buds
Flower Buds

Flower Buds
Flower Buds

Deck Oil Lamps
Deck Oil Lamps

Deck Oil Lamps
Deck Oil Lamps

Deck Oil Lamps
Deck Oil Lamps

Deck Oil Lamps
Deck Oil Lamps

Deck Oil Lamps
Deck Oil Lamps

All these pictures were taken by a Nikon D3100 with an 18-55mm lens (The kit lens).

The Unskilled Degreed Graduates: Why Do We Chastise Them?


Shaaban Fundi,

Nkurumah Hall (Picture by Professor Mbele)
Nkurumah Hall (Picture by Professor Mbele)
University education is at the top of the root education (pre-K, K-7 and secondary education) in Tanzania. Whenever there is a missing link (a gap) at the bottom, the gap gets magnified as you move up the education ladder. This is analogous to the bioaccumulation concept in environmental science. The most toxic fish happens to be those at the top of the food chain. Following this logic, the degreed graduate who never had the proper training at the lower level ends up being the most unskilled. This is because majority of students in Tanzania lack skills to be autonomous learners and thinkers at the lower levels of education. Once they reach the University level it becomes really difficult for them to gain those skills. In other words it is too late for them.

The gaps in science, math and reading literacy (Uwezo East Africa Report 2012) at the root- schools can’t be fixed within the 3-4 years. Most people graduate from colleges in Tanzania with worthless degrees (No offence). They end up not gaining essential and/or transferable skills during their university careers and consequently missing the boat. There is also the gap between degree programs at the Universities and necessary market skills needed at the work place. This gap actually leads to people getting hired and working in capacities where they have no job related skills resulting to poor productivity in the entire work force.

The current trend of changing just the degree program names at the university level to match the degrees needed by the market will not fix this problem. Teaching in these degree programs need to focus more into skills building, “creating an environment in which learner become increasing adept at learning from each other and at helping each other learn in problem solving groups” (Mezirow, 1997) rather than rote memorization of theories, facts and principles. Degree programs need to develop skill sets that are needed to be successful in their gratuates working environment. These key competencies for work place includes “ acquiring and using information, identifying and organizing resources, working with others, interpreting information, and understanding complex interrelationships”(Gonzi et al, 1995). The most important factor for me is teaching learners to become autonomous, this is not the norm in most if not all colleges in Tanzania.

To sum this all up, real fixes need to start from the bottom of the education chain. That is from pre-schools, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools–all the way up to universities and graduate schools. We always seem to look at a college degree holder and dismantle him/her for lack of skills at the work place. Questions such as “where did he/her go to college?” become the norm in our conversation. We often forget this is the same person that came from schools that did not prepare her/him well in becoming an autonomous learner in science, math and writing. If we have to fix this image, the fixing process need to happen throughout the entire education system. Just putting a Band-Aid in convenient places will add up to the problem and will not in any way help to solve it.

A Bus Ride From Hell and BACK!


I always travel from Morogoro to Dar Es Salaam on Aboud buses. This time around I went for a change; a change that nearly ended my life–Literary.

I arrived at the Msamvu bus station about 5 minutes after the on-the- hour Aboud bus had just left for Dar. I did not want to spend the next hour sitting on a bus waiting for departure. Therefore, I decided to take a bus from Mwanza going to Dar Es Salaam.

We left Morogoro 10 minutes after-noon. The bus was weaving and swaying all-over-the place. I realized my mistake pretty right on the spot. We were about to leave the bus station  when the traffic cops stopped the bus. The bus tires were badly worn-out. Money exchanged hands and we were allowed to proceed with our journey to Dar-Es-Salaam.

The traffic stop was the first sign. I should have left the bus right there and then. However, I wanted to experience the ride–so I stayed on. We left Morogoro again after bribing the traffic cops. In about a half an hour after we left MOROGORO we had a front tire blow-out. The bus skidded for a couple of second until we finally stopped. We were lucky. Very lucky because we were not speeding at the time of the blow out. We spent about 45 minutes changing the tire.

The saga continued afterwards. We came to near misses on head-on collisions several times afterwards. One was just a few kilometers away from Chalinze and a couple after Mlandizi.

After we had arrived at Kibaha Picha Ya Ndege. I had had enough of the craziness. I asked the bus conductor to let me out. Stayed at the bus station and waited for Aboud bus to complete my Dar Es Salaam journey.

I guess there will be no Mwanza buses for me in the future………….

A Traffic Violation in Tanzania


I am in Tanzania. I’m keeping a very low profile in my village. As is the case, time is running–fast. Faster than I would like it to. I have been detained (at a local secondary school for taking pictures without permission), questioned (at a local dispensary for again taking pictures of the surrounding environment), and asked to tell who I was twice for minding my business. In a one week time living in a rural village in Tanzania, I have been asked to bribe the traffic police officials more than 5 times.  If this is not indicative of how corrupt officials are in this country, then, I do not know what is. With my outside eyes, it is quite fascinating to see how things-run over here.

Here is a snap-shot of a conversation I had with a traffic officer somewhere in Morogoro.

Traffic officer: Can I check your motorcycle sir?

Me: Go right ahead sir.

Traffic officer: You are missing one important document sir.

Me: What document? If I may ask.

Traffic Officer: You don’t have insurance sir.

Me: Let me check to make sure that I really don’t have it. I looked on some pockets and fished out an insurance card. Here is an insurance card officer.

Traffic officer: Let me continue to inspect your motorcycle and when I am finished, I will let you go sir.

Me: Take your time.

Traffic officer: The rear indicator light is not working.

Me: okay

Traffic officer: It is a Tshs 32,000.00 (~$20) offence sir.

Me: Write me the ticket.

Traffic officer: Do you understand it is 32,000Tshs?

Me: Yes, just write a ticket. I will go to the police station pay for it.

Traffic Officer: You know you can just pay me a little amount of money and you can go on with your day.

Me: Yes I know. I just want to pay the fine and then, I will fix my rear indicator light officer.

Traffic officer: Can I see your driving license?

Me: Yes officer—here it is.

Traffic officer:  Reading my driving license….mmmh! Just give me 10000Tshs and I will let you go. No problems.

Me: I would rather pay the fine officer—just write me the ticket.

Traffic officer: Just find me some money in your pockets.

Me: I don’t have any money with me. I can go pay the fine at the police station if you write the ticket though.

Traffic officer: See me later. You can go now. I became a nuisance to him. He was not able to stop others while I was standing there recording our conversation. In addition, he was not able to ask for bribes from the other motorists he stopped before he stopped me.

Me: Where is the ticket?

Traffic officer: I ‘m not going to write you one. Just see me when you come back.

Me: Thank you officer….and I left him standing there. He has not gotten any money out of me. I was very proud of myself.