- Lea's Blog

Philly Student (Photo by Vikki Sloviter, courtesy KIPP Philadelphia Schools)

The truth, as many American teachers know firsthand, is that low-income children can be harder to educate than children from more-comfortable backgrounds. Educators often struggle to motivate them, to calm them down, to connect with them. This doesn’t mean they’re impossible to teach, of course; plenty of kids who grow up in poverty are thriving in the classroom. But two decades of national attention have done little or nothing to close the achievement gap between poor students and their better-off peers.

In recent years, in response to this growing crisis, a new idea (or perhaps a very old one) has arisen in the education world: Character matters. Researchers concerned with academic-achievement gaps have begun to study, with increasing interest and enthusiasm, a set of personal qualities—often referred to as noncognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children, especially low-income children.

But here’s the problem: For all our talk about noncognitive skills, nobody has yet found a reliable way to teach kids to be grittier or more resilient. And it has become clear, at the same time, that the educators who are best able to engender noncognitive abilities in their students often do so without really “teaching” these capacities the way one might teach math or reading—indeed, they often do so without ever saying a word about them in the classroom. This paradox has raised a pressing question for a new generation of researchers: Is the teaching paradigm the right one to use when it comes to helping young people develop noncognitive capacities?

The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less. This diminishes their fragile sense of autonomy. As these students fall behind their peers academically, they feel less and less competent. And if their relationships with their teachers are wary or even contentious, they are less likely to experience the kind of relatedness that Deci and Ryan, professors at the University of Rochester, describe as being so powerfully motivating for young people in the classroom. Once students reach that point, no collection of material incentives or punishments is going to motivate them, at least not in a deep or sustained way.

All of which brings us back to the question of how to help children develop those mysterious noncognitive capacities. If we want students to act in ways that will maximize their future opportunities—-to persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses—-we need to consider what might motivate them to take those difficult steps. What Deci and Ryan’s research suggests is that students will be more likely to display these positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence, and growth—or, to use Deci and Ryan’s language, where they experience relatedness, autonomy, and competence.

From article by Paul Tough

Jose buying stuff (blogs.edweek.org)

Although Lea's Box emphasis is on learning analytics and assessment, it might be interesting to take a look at other ways to motivate kids to learn.  Here is one.

Productive failure

Learning from failure has become a popular idea in education recently, partly because it feels like common sense to many people. In a general way, the idea of “picking yourself up after a fall” has long existed in American culture as in many other parts of the world. Teachers are hoping that if they can instill this idea in their students, the small, everyday setbacks inherent to learning new things won’t feel so emotionally charged to students, who might instead see them as part of the path to greater understanding and ultimate success.

But turning the difficult experience of failure into a positive isn’t as easy as telling students to change their mindsets; it takes careful lesson design, a strong classroom culture and an instructor trained in getting results from small failures so his or her students succeed when it matters.Tasks must be challenging enough to engage learners, but not so challenging they give up.

  • Tasks must have multiple ideas, solutions or ways to solve so that students generate a multitude of ideas. It cannot be a closed task with only one path to finding a correct answer.
  • The task must activate prior knowledge, and not just formal learning from a previous lesson.
  • While the task should activate knowledge, it should be designed so that the knowledge students have is not sufficient to solve the problem.
  • It helps if that task is related to something students care about or concerns something with which they identify.

Manu Kapur has been studying what he calls “productive failure” for most of his career. Now a professor of psychological studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, Kapur has conducted both quasi-experimental and randomized controlled trials on how teaching through productive failure measures up to both direct instruction as well as more constructivist problem-solving approaches.  He tested productive failure teaching strategies with students of varying abilities in Singapore and has found it to work with all students, regardless of ability. “Initial pre-existing conditions between students do not predict how much they learn,” Kapur said. “How they solve the initial problem is what predicts how much they learn.”

Can we say which woman is smarter?

Excerpted from The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose. Copyright ©2016 by L. Todd Rose, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

During the Age of Average we have defined opportunity as “equal access” — as ensuring that everyone has access to the same experiences. Of course, equal access is undoubtedly preferable to older alternatives such as nepotism, cronyism, racism, misogyny, and classism. And there is no doubt that equal access has improved society immensely, creating a society that is more tolerant, respectful, and inclusive. But equal access suffers from one major shortcoming: it aims to maximize individual opportunity on average by ensuring that everyone has access to the same standardized system, whether or not that system actually fits.

If it doesn't fit, our performance will always be artificially impaired. But if we do get a good fit with our environment — whether that environment is a cockpit, a classroom, or a corner office — we will have the opportunity to show what we are truly capable of. This means that if we want equal opportunity for everyone, if we want a society where each one of us has the same chance to live up to our full potential, then we must create professional, educational, and social institutions that are responsive to individuality.

We know there is no such thing as an average person, and we can see the flaw in the equal access approach to opportunity: if there is no such thing as an average person, then there can never be equal opportunity on average. Only equal fit creates equal opportunity. Equal fit is an ideal that can bring our institutions into closer alignment with our values, and give each of us the chance to become the very best we can be, and to pursue a life of excellence, as we define it.

If we are looking for the institution where implementing equal fit would have the biggest immediate impact on opportunity, the place to start is clear: public education. Despite the fact that “personalized learning” is the biggest buzzword in education today, and despite efforts of many organizations seeking change in the system, almost everything in traditional educational systems remains designed to ensure students receive the same exact standardized experience. Textbooks are designed to be “age appropriate,” which means they are targeted toward the average student of a given age. Many assessments (including many so-called high-stakes tests) are age or grade normed, which means they are based around the average student of that age or grade. We continue to enforce a curriculum that defines not only what students learn, but also how, when, at what pace, and in what order they learn it. In other words, whatever else we may say, traditional public education systems violate the principles of individuality.

Although it would not be easy, it’s not difficult to imagine how to introduce equal fit into education. For starters, we can require that textbooks be designed “to the edges” rather than to the average; we can require that curricular materials be adaptive to individual ability and pacing rather than fixed based on grade or age; we can require that educational assessments be built to measure individual learning and development rather than simply ranking students against one another. Finally, we can encourage local experimentation and sharing of successes and failures to accelerate discovery and adoption of cost-effective, scalable ways to implement student-driven, self-paced, multipathway educational experience.

The Hanging Gardens painting by Samuel Miller
The Hanging Gardens painting by Samuel Miller

Peer created microassessments

The foundation of any educational institution is its assessment system. This defines what it values, promotes, and propagates. In turn an educational system forms the foundation of a society, defining what its citizens value, promote, and create. Our current dependence, then, on standardized assessments is disturbing yet necessary.

We need ways to measure an individual’s abilities and achievements. If one cannot prove they have learned they cannot operate on that learning with others and move forward. So students are forced to use the limited standardized assessments valued by society, assessments that encourage poor pedagogical practices and restriction of independent learning while putting incredible stress on teachers and institutions both in creation and maintenance of their integrity. So while these tests may currently be necessary it’s clear their continued use is unsustainable.

As an alternative otlw proposes an abstracted system of assessment based on randomized peer consensus and built on Ethereum Blockchain. Instead of focusing on single hard-to-make easy-to-break assessments it leverages multiple, smaller, peer created microassessments of user defined tasks.

Other uses of Blockchain in Education

A project developed by Sony Global Education uses Blockchain for open and secure sharing of academic proficiency and progress records. At the moment, verifying education credentials requires extensive legwork. Companies have to hire specialized agencies that carry out this work, or they have to take up the job of verifying educational credentials by themselves. This is slow, tedious and expensive. If my school issued a digital certificate, which could be verified through a private or a public blockchain, any potential employers and schools could just look at my results if they had access to the blockchain. Holberton School and MIT Media Lab are already issuing digital certificates to their graduates.

The Blockchain in Education Questions

What is Blockchain?

Chances are that you’ve heard of bitcoin, the digital currency that many predict will revolutionize payments – or prove to be a massive fraud – depending on what you read. Bitcoin is an application that runs on the Blockchain, which is ultimately a more interesting and profound innovation.

The Blockchain is a secure transaction ledger database that is shared by all parties participating in an established, distributed network of computers. It records and stores every transaction that occurs in the network, essentially eliminating the need for a central authority to verify trust and the transfer of value. It transfers power and control from large entities to the many, enabling safe, fast, cheaper transactions despite the fact that we may not know the entities we are dealing with.

The mechanics of the Blockchain are novel and highly disruptive. As people transact in a Blockchain ecosystem, a public record of all transactions is automatically created. Computers verify each transaction with sophisticated algorithms to confirm the transfer of value and create a historical ledger of all activity. The computers that form the network that are processing the transactions are located throughout the world and importantly are not owned or controlled by any single entity. The process is real-time, and much more secure than relying on a central authority to verify a transaction. Click here to see it in action.

Lea in the Box

LEA's strong in the Czech Republic!

Scio cooperates with many schools and teachers all around the Czech Republic and therefore, it is possible for us analyse what Czech teachers and pupils really need. Using focus groups, questionnaires and informal meetings, we found that what teachers and pupils miss most are tools facilitating the assessment of the 21 century skills and tools for self-assessment.

Taking this into account, we developed a mind-mapping tool which enables teachers to draft a mind map of a skill of interest and describe what behaviour pupils should display in order to show they have mastered this skill. The tool was developed by TU Graz and piloted by Scio in Czech classrooms. Teachers found the mind-mapping tool particularly useful for skills and competences of the 21 century skills, an example of such a skill being the reading literacy. Teachers agreed this tool helps them to better assess pupils’ strengths and weaknesses in “complex” skills, because it helps them structure the skill and thus decide where in particular their pupils might be struggling.


Another problem frequently mentioned by Czech teachers and pupils alike is the lack of self‑assessment in the learning process. Sometimes, the opinion of a pupil’s performance may considerably differ between the teacher, an external source of assessment (such as a standardized test) and the pupil him/herself. If this is the case, it is very important to find the causes of this discrepancy.

As teachers currently struggle to get information of this kind, we developed another tool, called the “flower tool”. The tool was proposed by Scio based on teachers’ suggestions and developed in cooperation with TU Graz. This tool combines three sources of information about pupils’ performance: the teacher’s opinion, the pupils’ opinion and the results of an external test. Moreover, it takes into consideration another common complaint – the lack of tools assessing motivation, effort and other factors which might influence pupils’ performance. We put a lot of effort into making the tool user-friendly and interesting for pupils. The resulting tool looks like a flower: the leaves represent skills measurable by external tests (such as reading skills in English), and the petals represent motivation and other performance-related factors.


In summary, schools are going to benefit from both the tools described above, as the tools respect teachers’ and pupils’ real needs and concerns. We are going to keep improving the tools based on teachers’ and pupils’ feedback.

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Lea's Learning Analytics Blog

Learning analytics, educational data mining, formative assessment - all recent buzz words in educational research. In principle, the idea is to find theoretical frameworks, models, procedures, and smart tools to collect, aggregate, analyze, reason on and visualize large scale educational data. LEA’s BOX is a research and development project funded by the European Commission. The project aims at (a) making educational assessment and appraisal more goal-oriented, proactive, and beneficial for students, and (b) at enabling formative support of teachers and other educational stakeholders on a solid basis of a wide range of information about learners. That means, LEA’s BOX is a learning analytics toolbox that is intended to enable educators to perform competence-centered, multi-source learning analytics. More info at http://www.leas-box.eu!


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