Tuesday, October 29, 2013

So Close But Yet So Far Wired Magazine!

An article in this month's Wired magazine made me momentarily want to beat my head on the wall. The cover story, with the somewhat misleading title "The Next Steve Jobs", is about how a teacher in an incredibly poor school in Mexico took it upon himself to use a student centered pedagogical approach to teaching which resulted in many of his students leaping into the 99th percentile on national exams.

The story contrasts two extremes: mindless 19th Century inspired rote learning with dynamic engaging student-driven learning. The school doesn't have computers for the students. A roving ed tech instructor shows up holding placards with pictures of keyboards and 3.5" floppy disks. Not long after the teacher takes matters into his own hands, he has students figuring out how to solve complex math and science problems. Students that no one expected anything from proceed to blow away the competition. The plot line is rather predictable.

True, the story is engaging, as magazine articles need to be to maintain readership, and does a nice job of providing a glimpse of the innovative guts the teacher demonstrated. Without training or mentoring or any kind of outside assistance aside from the use of his home computer, he took a dive into turning conventional pedagogy on its head. It worked. One of his students in particular (whose photograph is on the cover of the issue) really excelled - she made the top score in the country on her standardized exams.

The article goes on to point out that the student's teacher received very little credit for his accomplishments. His students, in particular the girl who blew away the rest of the country academically, got the bulk of the attention. In fact, some of the region's administration dismissed the teacher's efforts entirely; one administrator is quoted as saying that teaching methods have little to do with how well students perform. Huh???? That in itself is incredibly annoying but by now the reader can see it coming.

At the end of the article (and here came the desire to whack my head on the nearest flat surface) I realized that the article missed a huge opportunity to rectify matters. It is a compelling story, but what are the take home messages? The casual reader could easily walk away with a variety of impressions about a brilliant girl, a lousy Mexican education system, a brave teacher, and the vague notion that student centered education sounds great. Or not great, depending upon your inclination.

But where are the take home messages that could take it to the next level for STEM education, and since this is Wired magazine, the messages about the digital economy and the need for innovative computing education? After all, they chose to put Steve Jobs name in the title. Then they did nothing with it.

I wish they had put the pieces together more clearly. What a lost opportunity to do more than tell a good story. Thud.

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