Real or Fake: David Beckham at the Beach

Welcome back to another edition of Real or Fake. This one, I would say, is certainly more believable than any of the earlier versions, although, that certainly doesn’t make it real.

In this video, if it is to be believed, soccer legend David Beckham puts three consecutive soccer balls into three different trash cans each located what appear to be 40ish yards away.

Check it out.

Now, I certainly don’t want to say anything to sway your judgement, but I will say really talented folks who have dedicated years to their craft are capable of some pretty remarkable things.

But, that, as with my other observation, does not make this real.

So, what say you? Real? or Fake?

Bowling… and supporting struggling students…

We recently went bowling. It was my nephews’ birthdays. We brought the whole family. I have a three-year-old who doesn’t take well to being left out of the fun, and he shouldn’t have to. Bowling is for everyone.

But he’s little. Really little. A 6-pound ball is about 16% of his body weight. That would be like a 200-lb man throwing a 32-lb bowling ball. No one bowls like that.

So, we provided a support to make sure that he could meaningfully engage.

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It’s a ramp. He put the ball on the ramp. The ball rolls down the ramp and now he’s bowling.

My son just plain ol’ isn’t big or strong enough to roll the ball down the lane. His body doesn’t have the capacity to provide enough energy to the ball. That said, there are still things he can do. He can’t supply kinetic energy, but he can provide gravitational potential energy by lifting the ball up to the ramp. The modification is the ramp facilitating the conversion to kinetic energy that ends with the ball rolling toward the pins.

In this case, we haven’t removed the responsibility to pick the ball up, carry it toward the lane, and add energy to the ball. We’ve also not stolen from him the experience of seeing his ball head toward the pins, to compete with the other children, and to have fun.

All we’ve modified is the conversion to kinetic energy that he is unable to do. And if you think that he was feeling unfulfilled because we modified the activity, then think again. He was hopping around like he had springs in his shoes every time he knocked down some pins.

And the progression toward full participation was visible. My six-year-old daughter was bowling, too. No ramp. She would get a running start and heave the ball with two hands.

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Not exactly a textbook technique, but effective as long as we include a different modification: bumpers. (Full disclosure, the three-year-old had bumpers, too.) We were setting the standard that the the ramp isn’t HOW you bowl. It’s a modified way to bowl until you grow strong enough to no longer need the support.

I thought these things as we watched him bowl. And I considered the implications for our students who need their classroom experiences modified to be full participants. Like a student who is still developing fine motor skills needing someone to dictate his/her spoken words. Or a student who doesn’t sit still well being able to work standing up and helping that student develop the ability to produce quality work while standing.

Take the effort that the student is able to give and provide support in the areas that… well… they just aren’t there yet. The expectation is that the student will be given support in their areas of weakness at another time to facilitate their growth, but at the moment they are in your class, it is important for them to be able to participate as fully as possible with the classroom activities. There are learning outcomes that don’t depend on their weaknesses.

For example, there will be a time when that student works on developing the ability to work sitting down, but the teacher is currently leading an activity on the civil war, and “learning while sitting down” isn’t one of the stated learning goals for that activity.

Or consider a student who is in Algebra I, but has a weakness in basic computation. This is a fairly common weakness among our Algebra I students, wouldn’t you say?

If we could create a structure whereby those students are receiving the specific supports in the area of computation (perhaps a 15-min per day intervention right before school… or something), would it be possible to allow strategic use of a calculator to support students who are weak in computation. They’d still have to know what numbers need to be computed. They still need to be able to check their answers and apply them back to a situation, but the calculator acts as the bowling ramp. It supports their effort until they grow strong enough to heave the ball down the lane themselves.

I think it’s important that we consider ways to help our students find success in our classes despite their weakness. The alternative is watching those weaknesses become bigger and bigger barriers until our students are sitting in the back of the bowling alley watching everyone else have fun.

My (imaginary) conversation with a baseball sabermatrician

Baseball’s gets most of the benefits of a very talented group of statisticians. They spend their times trying to figure out the value that each action of a baseball player adds to their team’s chance of winning a game. Every possible action. In fact, ESPN just issued an article regarding the value of a catcher who frames pitches well.

So, I’ve been wondering why education can’t get in on a little bit of that action. A while back, I appealed to Sabermetricians hoping to get some of that talent to play for our team.

Today, through some Twitter conversation with school data aficionado Andrew Cox (@acox) I got an idea of what the conversation might look like if a Sabermatrician responded to my appeal.

We’ll call our statistician Timmy. I’ll play the part of Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you for calling. I have been looking forward to this conversation for a while now.

Timmy: It’s no problem. I’ll do whatever I can to help. But first, I need some information from you.

Andrew: Anything. Just name it.

Timmy: Well, I need to know the goal of the education system?

Andrew: The goal?

Timmy: Yeah, the goal. You know, like baseball’s goal is to win games. The most successful team is the team that wins the most games.

Andrew: Yeah, well, that sort of depends on who you talk to. This article lays out 11 goals (some more explicit than others). President Obama says this. Thomas Jefferson says this. These folks say we should teach entrepreneurship

Timmy: Well… okay. So, you’re saying that education as a whole doesn’t have an agreed upon goal?  Who makes the decision of what a school goal is?

Andrew: Well, school boards make a lot of decisions. Increasingly, it seems like legislators are getting a larger say.

Timmy: I see, well, Okay, okay. So, are schools doing anything to measure how strong the long-term retention is for it’s students?

Andrew: um… while I can’t speak for schools nationwide, I am not aware of any K-12 school districts that are doing anything to measure the long-term retention of the content.

Timmy: Well, that makes it tricky to figure out the practices that contribute to that.

Andrew: I agree.

Timmy: Well, okay. Goals might be tough to define. I understand. It’s a diverse system. What about the means?

Andrew: The means?

Timmy: Yeah, like, in baseball, the means of reaching your goal of winning is to maximize the runs you score and minimize the runs your opponent scores. So, what are the means of reaching the goals of the educational system?

Andrew: Yeah… the means.

Timmy: Yep.

Andrew: Well, it kind of depends on which goal the school has.

Timmy: I’m sorry, I know I come from the baseball field, but isn’t learning the goal?

Andrew: Yes, absolutely.

Timmy: So, what practices maximize that?

Andrew: Well, these people say effective use of formative assessment and differentiated instruction. These folks have all kinds of advice. Some of that advice matches these folks’ advice.

Timmy: Okay, there some things to work with there. Some of that’s teacher stuff. Some of that is student stuff. Some of that is parent stuff. Some of that is administrator stuff.

Andrew: Yup. That is pretty much true.

Timmy: How can you tell if those things are actually happening in a classroom or in a student’s home?

Andrew: That can be tricky business. Principals have a hard time get into the classrooms to support instructors. And you can’t really ask to do walkthroughs on students’ homes. 

Timmy: So, what data do you have?

Andrew: We have TONS of demographic data. We have attendance and behavioral data. We have test scores.

Timmy: I’m sorry, do you really need to contract me so that I can tell you that there is value added to a kid’s experience by showing up to school and not getting in trouble?

Andrew: No… no, we knew that one.

Timmy: One thing that helps baseball statisticians is that every play is recorded from at least 3 camera angles. So, why don’t you just put cameras in each classroom to get a real sense of what teachers and students are doing?

Andrew: Some think that would be usefulLawyers say that’s risky. 

Timmy: Well, Andrew. If you don’t have a goal, you can’t really isolate the means, and we can’t really observe any of the practitioners in any real detail, then what do you expect do get done with your statistics?

 

Doggone it, Timmy. That’s a great question.

How many baseball are in this bucket?

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Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) asked me for this picture somewhat relating to this post from a year or so ago. Once I tweeted the picture, it got the attention of a few others who simply wanted to guess how many baseballs were in it. I had forgotten how engaging a “who can guess the closest amount of…” questions can be.

So? How many you think?

Also, how can we use this in a math classroom? it’s tricky to use as a spheres-inside-of-a-cylinder problem simply because of the non-uniform amount of empty space between the baseballs. It makes the answer of actual baseballs less than the theoretical “volume of bucket divided by volume of baseballs” solution.

But does that mean it can’t be used? What do you think? Chime in.

 

Also, if you want to see how many baseball are in the bucket, then see for yourself.

Where are education’s Sabermetrics?

Baseball

In the last couple decades, baseball has gone through a statistical revolution because of a fairly simple question: “How good is that baseball player?” For the previous 8 or 10 decades, there were a limited number of metrics that got used to evaluate ballplayers. Hitters, for example, were evaluated by how often they got a hit (batting average), how often their at bat produced a run (RBI), how many home runs they hit. Pitchers were evaluated by the number of batters they struck out, how many runs the other team scored that the pitcher “earned”, and how many games the pitcher started in which the pitcher’s team won (or thereabouts… the pitcher “win” is actually a pretty odd (and seemingly useless) stat…).

What made those statistics appealing is that they were fairly easy to compile and communicate.

But there was a problem: traditional metrics didn’t tell enough of the story. Perhaps a pitcher earning a win had more to do with them pitching for a team that scored a lot of runs. Perhaps a hitter with a lot of home runs played in a home ballpark with shorter fences. Perhaps a hitter with a higher batting average rarely walked and hit into a lot of double plays. The traditional metrics became difficult to trust (especially to an owner deciding to commit tens of millions of dollars to a player). So, new statistical measures were developed that attempted to factor in all of the nuanced information that baseball can provide. (Read all about it…)

Education is dealing with a similar issue. We are trying to become a data-driven. We want to use data to tell us what the education world is like. So, we started measuring things. Important things… like literacy.

Well, this floated across my Facebook wall…

Literacy was at 98%, huh?

Literacy was at 98%, huh?

One can fairly easily derive the intended meaning of this meme. It would seem like “ParentsForLiberty.org” would like us to think that in 1850, the world was a much more educated place because 98% (of… something…) were literate.

But let’s examine the statement “literacy was at 98 percent.” Talk about a loaded statement! 98 percent of students could decode a text? 98 percent of eligible voters could read the ballot? 98% of families owned a book? What does “literacy was at 98 percent” mean?

Maybe there was a test, and 98% of the kids passed it, which is good, except perhaps before Massachusetts made education compulsory, only kids who could read went to school.

Literacy is complicated. There are some parts of education that are easy to measure. (For example, attendance, homework completion, correct multiple-choice answers, grade-point average). We’d like literacy to be easier, so we invest in tests like DIBELS that attempt take a student’s literacy and work it down to a set of ratings that are easy to communicate. The ACT does the same thing with college readiness. College readiness is complicated, too, but reading an ACT score isn’t complicated.

We’ve tried to quantify as much as we can. We’ve tried to quantify student performance, teacher performance, curriculum performance. We want to know how well they are working. We want to know where we are being successful and where we are letting our students down. That’s a good thing.

The problem is that there are some incredibly important parts of education that are very difficult to measure. Like, impact of an individual classroom management strategy on student achievement, student engagement, scheduling classes to optimize student achievement or the role of extra-curriculars. These are HUGE questions with answers that are not easily quantified. And most school districts are without the means (time, money, qualified personnel) to do an in-depth analysis necessary to achieve a well-rounded look at a complicated issue like overall student achievement for each student each year. So we substitute with some easier to achieve metrics like DIBELS, an ACT score, and grade point average.

And those have become our Pitcher Wins, RBI, and Home Run. They don’t tell us nearly enough of the story.

Where’s our sabermetrics? Where can education go to see the stats that can combine to provide a more three-dimensional look at our system, our teachers, and our students? I understand why baseball got the first turn with the statisticians. There’s way more money in it. Maybe some of you stats folks who have decided that your financial future is secure wouldn’t mind e-mailing me. We’ll sit down. I’ll share with you the data I have (a ton) and we can develop some formulas that produce some metrics. Maybe you can tell me how well that curriculum program is working? How about what kind of environment a particular student performs best in? Which types of literacy patterns are strong predictors for future struggles in mathematics or science?

I look forward to hearing from you.