Shoot more threes

Steph Curry has changed basketball by showing players and fans what should have been apparent all along: If you practice really hard and get really good, shooting a three-pointer is far more beneficial than taking a two-point shot.

Growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, I thought the slam dunk was the most thrilling offensive move. But no matter how high a player could jump off the ground–no matter how acrobatic his trajectory–a dunk was only two points.

Of course, three-point shots have been around forever, and there have been many great shooters throughout the history of the NBA. Curry is different though. Not only has he perfected the three-point shot to almost superhuman proportions, he’s changing how other players approach the game. Further still, he’s influencing how this generation’s young people practice. Yeah, dunks still look cool, but the three-point shot is now even more cool. Better yet, you get three points instead of two.

I was thinking about this the other day in relation to education. There are a lot of two-point shots being taken. Maybe even some slam dunks and the occasional alley-oop. Looking at John Hattie’s ranking of effect sizes, these two-pointers could be any number of things:

  • homework
  • use of PowerPoint
  • summer school

These three random examples each have less than a 0.40 effect size, so according to Hattie’s research, you’re not getting a lot of bang for your buck by using them in the pursuit for student achievement.

Just as Curry has forced basketball players to strategically think about how they can more effectively make points for their teams, Hattie is helping educators rethink how to be more effective in the classroom. Every strategy has an effect (just like every made shot within the three-point line is two points)–what’s important is using precious instructional time to choose the strategies that reap the greatest rewards. According to Hattie, these “three-point shots” are:

  • teacher estimates of achievement (1.62)
  • collective teacher efficacy (1.57)
  • self-reported grades (1.33)

Teachers and administrators must shoot fewer two-pointers and begin shooting more three-pointers. Here and here are good places to start in this pursuit.

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Antifragility and the 4 right drivers in systems

Two of my favorite non fiction books are Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Coherence by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn. The more I think about both of them, the more I recognize how intertwined they are. The best way to illustrate this is to first describe the central idea behind Antifragile.

FRAGILE

1

Think of an egg. You drop it on the ground, and it looks like this:

2

That’s fragility; introduce a little force or instability, and destruction follows. Fragility should be avoided at all costs: fragile systems, fragile investments, fragile jobs… the list goes on.

ROBUST
3
Think of a bowling ball. You drop it on a tile kitchen floor, and it looks like this:
4
That’s robustness. Introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, or organization isn’t affected. Obviously, this is more ideal than fragility.

ANTIFRAGILE
5
Think of Hydra. You remember Hydra? When you cut off one of its heads, two more grow back in its place, like this:
6
That’s antifragility; introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, or organization becomes stronger.

So we have three ideas: fragility, robustness, and antifragility (a term coined by Taleb). These ideas are important to keep in mind when discussing systems.

Let’s discuss the book Coherence. Fullan introduces the four right drivers and the four wrong drivers in educational systems .

Right drivers:

  1. Focusing direction
  2. Cultivating collaborate cultures
  3. Deepening learning
  4. Securing accountability

Wrong Drivers:

  1. Punitive accountability
  2. Individualist strategies
  3. Technology
  4. Ad hoc policies

Let’s say you run a school district. The first thing you should do is foster the creation of the four right drivers. You begin by focusing direction, which means becoming good at a small number of things and aligning all your initiatives and resources toward that end. The second thing you must do is cultivate collaborative cultures. The means professional learning communities (PLC) are supported, as well as the components that create effective PLC time (i.e. an emphasis on common formative assessments, focusing on goals, and providing enough time for members to be productive). The third driver is deepening learning, which means building capacity (shared skills and common vocabulary) regarding that which your system is focusing. Fourth, you must apply external accountability while fostering internal accountability.

I believe a school district can be made robust–and maybe even antifragile–by incorporating the four right drivers. Before I explain why, let’s discuss how the four wrong drivers will make a system fragile.

First, punitive accountability is a tactic made by politicians and shortsighted leaders who want (need) quick results. This has never worked, and never will work to advance student learning. Second, individualistic strategies are damaging to a system. Teachers who are individualistic tend to alienate themselves. Likewise, charismatic leaders who are individualistic and make a big impact often leave a vacuum when they switch jobs or retire. Third, technology has been viewed as a panacea because devices are easy to buy and install within classroom. They can be tangible, “shiny objects” that catch your eye. But don’t be fooled, nothing magical will happen by putting technology in classrooms. Fourth, ad hoc policies can inflict much harm upon a district. This is because they’re often implemented without awareness of their placement within the coherent ecosystem of the district. For example, if you really want to introduce problem based learning (PBL), and you haven’t established conceptual links between direct instruction, Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, and technology, then the implementation of PBL is going to be a disaster.

All the wrong drivers Fullan discusses in his book will make your organization fragile. When you have the fragile-robust-antifragile paradigm established in your mind, it’s easy to make the connection between wrong drivers and fragility. Punitive accountability will make you weak. Individualistic strategies will make you weak. Technology could make you weak (unless you use it as an accelerator), and ad hoc policies will make you weak. In fact, ad hoc policies are the silent fragility maker, mostly because the people implementing them have the best of intentions and no idea they’re weakening the organization.

On the other hand, the right drivers will make districts robust–and as I wrote above–possibly antifragile. If an organization has focused direction, it doesn’t matter which shiny objects are offered; the organization is not going to bite. If collaborative cultures are strong, people will be unified, which helps focus direction. If educators delve deeper into their learning, they’ll be more likely to share, which cultivates collaborative cultures and focuses direction. And if accountability is secured both externally and internally, then learning will be deepened, people will collaborate, and the focus will zero in on what’s important. Thus, coherence.

This coherent organization will be robust because it will be strong. New curriculum adoption? No matter, we’ll learn it and use it to teach Common Core. New digital grade book? No matter, we’ll learn it and use it to provide valuable feedback. New principal? No matter, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing because we produce results.

That’s robustness. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. But what about antifragility? Remember, antifragility is like hydra–this means the organization doesn’t just absorb the blow, it becomes stronger because of it. The antifragile district thrives within chaos.

My argument boils down to this: A district that incorporates all four right drivers can thrive within chaos. It can gain from disorder. This means the loss of a charismatic leader, lack of funding, Wi-Fi that’s down, large class sizes, new implementations, new standards, and new ideas can make a district stronger.

This is possible. We just need more people to jump on the Coherence train as we travel toward antifragility.

Three Minute Thrillers

Three Minute Thrillers are professional development videos packed into 3 minutes or less. I’ve been creating and posting them weekly since the beginning of January, and people have found them to be efficient ways to learn new skills from the comfort of their homes, Starbucks, offices, classrooms, etc.

Most Three Minute Thrillers deal with Google Apps for Education. Check them all out here!

Fiver Fridays

Fiver Friday is a newsletter I send every Friday containing five things I’ve found useful or information regarding education (or somehow related to education). Sign up here to receive the message in your inbox every Friday. You can view the archive by clicking the Fiver Friday tab at the top of this blog.

Thank you, Mrs. Bauer

I hated taking the bus to school during first grade. I was a sensitive kid, and walking to the bus stop was no easy task. My parents meant well having me trek down the street every morning–I think the attempt toward cultivating a little more resilience was noble–but there was an issue that eventually threw a wrench in my parents’ plan for carpool-less mornings and afternoons: The morning bus was always late.

Most kids could care less that the bus dropped them off late at school. The tardiness wasn’t their fault, nor their parents’. The culprit was the bus, so most kids didn’t bat an eye when strolling into class 10-15 minutes late.

I was not one of those kids. If the bus didn’t show up at the stop on time, I cried. When the bus did eventually arrive, I’d cry on the way to school. And when the bus finally arrived, I’d cry while walking off the bus and into class.

I’m not proud of these tear-soaked episodes. I wish I could talk sense to six-year-old Steve. “Don’t worry about the bus,” I want to say. “It’s not a big deal. All you’re missing is attendance and the morning announcement. Maybe you’re missing the pre-spelling test if it’s Monday, but again, not a big deal.”

In my memory, the bus was late a lot. Maybe I’m exaggerating this lateness. Even if I am, I have plenty other reasons why the bus was bad news for me. I remember stepping in dog poop before boarding the bus one afternoon. It didn’t take long for everyone to smell it and begin making fun of me. I also recall a pimply bus attendant who introduced me to Freddy Krueger. I remember the first time he told us first graders about a scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street... it was the part when the heroine is in the bath tub closing her eyes and Freddy’s claw emerges from the soapy water near her feet. I couldn’t take a bubble bath for weeks.

The terror of the tardy bus culminated one morning in a way I’ll never forget. My mom walked me outside, gave me a kiss, and waved goodbye from our driveway. It was a cold morning, and as I made my way to the bus stop I could see my breath, so I pretended to be a locomotive for a while. I was about halfway to the bus stop when I shifted by backpack and noticed it was a little light. I slipped one of the straps off my shoulder, unzipped the bag, and peered inside. My lunch box was missing.

At that moment, the bus made its turn far up the street and began to slow toward the bus stop. It was finally early on a morning I forgot my lunch! With my backpack in hand, I made a dash toward the bus. The bus stopped and two or three students boarded. Then the doors closed and the bus lurched forward. The driver eventually saw me out the window, so he stopped, the door opened, and I jumped inside.

Unfortunately, as I was running my nose started bleeding, so I sniffed back the blood the best I could. Most of the kids probably just assumed I was crying–they obviously had strong prior evidence to believe this was the case. Eventually, they were correct, because I did begin crying. I had an empty backpack with no lunch. I was frustrated about the bus coming early on the day I forgot my lunch. I was embarrassed about getting on the bus late. And my nose was bleeding. I was a hot mess.

Because of the bus’s promptness, no other students were around when my bus mates and I stepped on campus. I walked to my first grade classroom, sat outside on a nearby bench, and continued sobbing.

A first grade mind is like another planet for adults. Too quickly we forget what it’s like to be young. The lens with which we view the world is drastically different now than it was then. Life experiences, cognitive development, and common sense all help us control our emotions and put things in a healthy perspective–at least most of the time. 6-year-old Steve, with a bloody nose and no lunch box, had a lot of developing and learning to do. I think that’s why I was crying, and it’s also probably why my crying eventually caught the attention of my first grade teacher.

I remember Mrs. Bauer opening the door. She stepped out, helped me to my feet, and walked me inside. Her room was warm, and she had on the classical music she sometimes played while we worked. It smelled like coffee, which I liked. She sat me down and brought over a box of tissues. She gently rubbed my back as I pinched my nose. She told me everything was OK.

She helped me wash by face when the tears and blood stopped flowing. Then she called my mom to let her know I needed a lunch.

The amount of relief and peace I felt in Mrs. Bauer’s classroom that morning is something I’ll never forget. She calmed me down, helped stop my bloody nose, washed my face, and ensured my lunch would arrive. As the other students began whooping and hollering outside upon their arrival, Mrs. Bauer let me stay inside and eat a snack. She smiled and spoke softly. It may have been cold outside, but her classroom was filled with so much warm light.

Teachers do this on a daily basis. They help students who had bad mornings or terrible nights. They leave indelible impressions so girls and boys can grow into strong and empathetic women and men. Educators help students again and again and again–all the while teaching standards, creating engaging lesson plans, formatively assessing, intervening, attending meetings, and much more.

I wish I could say thank you to Mrs. Bauer. I wish I could tell her I still feel the warmth of that morning in her room. I’d like her to know I eventually did become more resilient–that through good and bad years I grew into a man who now has two of his own children whom he loves dearly.

So thank you, Mrs. Bauer. And thank you to all teachers who care for our most precious resources by showing love and compassion on a daily basis.

BE LIKE HITCH

Have you ever seen the movie Hitch? It’s the one with Will Smith in which he plays a Casanova-like matchmaker with a heart of gold. (Maybe that’s how it was pitched to studio heads?) My favorite part is when Hitch (Smith) is teaching Albert (Kevin James) how to dance. Here’s a clip:

Albert believes dancing is the least of his problems, and Hitch is immediately suspicious. It’s all down hill once Albert showcases his moves.

After Hitch watches for a while with a disapproving stare, he tells Albert to never dance like that again. It’s clear Albert has at least two problems:

  1. He doesn’t have any developed dancing skills.
  2. He’s doing too much.

Hitch’s solution is simple: Keep it simple. Albert lets his enthusiasm get the best of him, and unfortunately it results in an outlandish mess. Hitch’s solution involves a short step back and forth with his elbows close to his body. The simplicity of this movement makes it possible for Albert to dance successfully with the woman he loves, and it leaves open the opportunity to later incorporate new moves as he learns them.

It’s important edtech leaders keep this approach in mind when helping teachers blend technology and instruction. Sometimes educators will receive 1:1 devices and act like Albert. Leaders need to gently show them how to keep it simple, for it’s only by starting with a strong foundation that a teacher will be able to successfully incorporate technology within a classroom.

“Shiny objects” are any software, hardware, or programs that can be implemented at a school site. Shiny objects aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but their use can be misguided based upon timing. In other words, MinecraftEdu might be OK to implement, but it could be a horrible time to do so.

Hitch

So this is what I propose: Help teachers become proficient using Google Apps for Education–specifically Drive, Docs, Slides, and Classroom–before anything else. Once this is accomplished, teachers can begin implementing more. Cloud based software that allows students to produce and communicate is where all good 1:1 usage begins.

Keep it simple.

Stick with Google Apps for Education.

Be like Hitch.