Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why We Should Be Investing in "Longitudinal Developmental Studies"

A good question to start off today's post would be:

Assuming a child cannot have both, is it better to have advanced math skills at an early stage, or high executive functioning skills? Can a child that is behind in academics but has better functioning skills catch up to his/her peers?

These are all questions that longitudinal developmental studies aim to answer. In an NYU Institute of Human Development and Social Change post emphasizing the importance of investing in long-term studies for learning, it claimed that like any other studies, such as medications, there must be both a short-term study and a long-term study. In the past, many studies on development were strictly short-term and only examined the benefits such as immediate test scores. The problem with these studies is that it fails to analyze long-term drawbacks. However, if we go back to our original questions, a study found that even if a student scores lower on a math exam, as long as they have high executive functioning skills, they are likely to catch up to their peers in the future.  

This study demonstrates the importance of long-term studies because if only short-term studies are made, then educators may promote activities that are not beneficial to a child's development in the long run. A good analogy that was made in the NYU Human Development post was that medications must also be examined both short-term and long-term. Even if a medication heals a person of the disease quickly, that person must be continually examined to see if there are side-effects long-term. If there are side effects, doctors must take note of the trend and alert future patients before treatment. This is the same with developmental methods. 

Fortunately, many families nowadays are willing to take part in long-term studies that allow researchers to visit their homes and take notes on how the child is developing over a period of a decade. Even though these families receive very little personal benefit, they are willing to partake in these studies because their help could be of benefit to kids in the future.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Online High School as an Alternative

The previous year, I experienced education in a completely different way than I had before when I completed my senior year of high school through an online school. Prior to this, I had always attended school regularly, like most other children, and had never even considered virtual school as an option. However, after being out of school for almost two years due to familial circumstances and having only 12th grade left to complete, online high school became the ideal path for me. The idea of attending a new high school at that point was not appealing to me, as it would have meant me integrating into my fourth high school in total as well as having to wait until the following fall semester to start college. I was eager for a fresh start and needed the flexibility a regular high school could not provide, so I decided to enroll in an online school called Laurel Springs School.

Online high school is a form of education in which students can take classes online to earn their high school diploma. These schools can either be private, public, charter, or university-affiliated. The school I attended, similar to most other virtual institutions, gave me the freedom to progress through my schoolwork at the pace that worked best for me, as long as the school year did not exceed 10 months. I had access to help from my teachers, be it through a phone call, email, or video call. There was a wide array of clubs offered, which involved cyber meetings, and a physical education requirement. With just a few steps from my bed to my family study room, I had all the resources I needed to receive a high school education.

The flexible schedule in online schools is its greatest virtue. I was able to cut down the amount of time I spent completing my senior year of high school and begin college a semester earlier than I would have otherwise. Students can also progress at a slower rate if necessary for a better understanding of the subject material. Certainly, it is not all about the speed with which one is able to finish school, but rather the quality of the education. For this reason, it is crucial to enroll in an accredited and reputable school. Another benefit of online schooling is the extra layer of convenience it provides. Whether you are traveling for sporting commitments or your family is relocating to another country, you can take your education along with you rather than putting it on hold or changing schools. It is also a more comfortable form of learning for those who do not function at their best in social environments, and those that get distracted by peers and the school setting.

While there are many positives that can be identified about online schooling, there are areas of added difficulty. This form of education would most likely not be suitable for those who thrive and function through physical interaction. While you can meet people and befriend them through clubs and video calls, it might not be as fulfilling. Additionally, there is no doubt that it is easier to communicate your confusion and questions to teachers in person, and having the degree of separation that comes with online high schools could create some difficulty. Finally, there is a certain level of responsibility necessary for the freedom virtual schooling brings. With no requirement to physically attend classes, it can be easy for one to fall behind in or fail to do their coursework.

Online schooling is definitely not for everyone, but it is certainly a worthwhile alternative for those interested. I feel as though I had a deeper understanding of class material than I had ever had before due to the fact that I was essentially teaching myself the course material through the resources provided by the school. While it is mostly used nowadays for people in special circumstances, such as students with an illness that inhibits them from attending a school or those pursuing professional athletics or the arts, I believe in the years to come it will start to become a form of education people are more aware and informed about. As we steer towards a more technologically-dependent world, online schooling might one day become the more popular form of learning.

You can explore an online school here: https://laurelsprings.com/

Contribution by Chizbel Oham

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Experiences as a Learning Assistant

Being a learning assistant for a chemistry class at Penn State has given me multiple interesting perspectives on learning. As a college student, you only experience learning from a first-person perspective, but when you start helping other people learn, that's when you get to observe how everyone's methods of learning are different. At first, you may be tempted to point out to others that their learning methods are less efficient, but it is also important to remember learning methods are habits and are difficult to change.

Just a few things about the learning assistant position I'm currently partaking in. 
  1. We are volunteers
  2. We earn class credits 
  3. We have to go to all the lectures/recitations for the class
  4. We are required to take a pedagogy class
  5. We do it because we enjoy the satisfaction of being able to help another student
My observations-

One thing that really stuck out to me as a learning assistant is that many students ask, "Is there a formula to this problem?". What this question effectively means is that the student does not understand the problem at hand. Rather than focusing on the key concepts of the problem, they are resorting to using a formula to solve their problems (The easy way out).

The problems with this: 
  1. Learning is supposed to be hard! It ain't a worthy accomplishment if it wasn't a challenge in the first place!
  2. Problems on an exam may require the use of multiple formulas and the understanding of how to link these relationships together.
  3. There is no need to learn the material if anyone can just plug and chug numbers into a formula.
  4. Problem-solving skills are not developed (This is necessary for real-world applications).
Students that are often asking these questions usually are the students that score the lowest on exams. The reason for this is because college-level exams seek understanding, not memorization. The formulas are used for maybe 15% of the questions and the rest are conceptual questions which require the student to link relationships together qualitatively.

Causes of this-

I believe that the cause of the learning deficit is because high schools fail to teach students how to study effectively. Quizzes and tests given in high schools often allow students to plug-and-chug numbers into a calculator to get an answer and doesn't help students develop their problem-solving skills. This is what causes college freshmen to usually have lower grades than other years, even when the classes are often the easiest. Sometimes, it's a little too late for students. 

What we can do-

As educators, what we can do is have a better awareness of testing students for understanding. This problem is the root cause of academic failures. For example, when a student asks for a formula, we should ask them a question in response such as, "What are you trying to find in the problem?". This should be proceeded by, "What are you given?". These questions should help initiate the student's critical and analytical thinking, which will, in the long run, help them understand the material better.