MEXICO: How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year?

Mexican students are beaming with happiness.

Well, at least that’s what OECD’s PISA found. In fact, in their report for Student Well Being, Mexico ranks at the top of OECD countries, with 58.5% of them claiming they are “very satisfied with life”.

But at the same time, Mexico has consistently ranked at the very bottomof academic achievement among OECD countries. In all three domains (Reading, Math and Science) less than 1% of students are top performers. There’s nothing here to be happy about.

Could Mexicans improve their education outcomes by lengthening the amount of time students spend learning, in and out of school? It is not likely.

We are already devoting a larger share of time studying, well above OECD’s average of 44 hours a week, but significatively below top performers like Korea.

Eduardo Andere, a Mexican researcher specializing in comparative education, strongly disagrees with making school days longer in order to improve performance.  What good could it come from increasing the dosage of bad education? That, by itself, will not turn a deficient education into a good one. In fact, it could be even worse.

Even more time of a good education will not necessarily result in better academic achievement. According to the OECD, “increasing learning time alone, such as by making school days or years longer, or shortening lunch breaks, is not enough to improve student outcomes. The question is whether more time leads to fatigue, boredom and burnout, or to productive and effective learning”(p. 2)

If more time spent at school is not the answer, then what to do? Every country is different, of course, but in the case of Mexico, poverty and inequity play a major role in academic achievement. Andere (2014) states that for too long we have believed that education will solve the problem of poverty, but it seems more likely to be the other way around. At the very least, it is a two-way road.

Erradicating poverty and inequity are goals well beyond the reach of any school teacher. Changing the education system to allow for better opportunites is too high a task for the everyday educator. But we have our classrooms and our students, and, at least there, we can make a difference.

At Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, where I teach, school days are longer that the Mexican average by about 7 hours per week. However, this time is not all spent in academic activities. We have a wide array of learning opportunities that range from music and art to coding, genius time and Maker Space. Students develop different skills and interact with peers and kids of other ages. And yes, they score well above the national average in standardized tests. Although we could not pinpoint the exact causes, I am sure they are not necessarily related to more time spent in school. I suspect it could have much more to do with how we spend that time and where do our students come from.

Let’s make the most of the time (however big or little) that we have at school. If we are able to promote joyous, engaging learning in (almost) every minute, our kids will fare much better – not only in PISA, but, most importantly, in life.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year?

 

References:

Andere, E. (2014) La Escuela Rota: Sistema y Política en contra del Aprendizaje en México. Siglo XXI Editores.

OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’Well-Being, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264273856-en

OECD (2017) PISA Country Note, México. Retrieved on September 1st, 2018, from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-Mexico.pdf

OECD (2017) Pisa in Focus #73 Do students spend enough time learning?

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/744d881a-en

 

The good, the bad and the best in EdTech tools for learning

These are amazing times for being a teacher. Our classrooms are no longer constrained to chalk or paper, our lessons no longer imprisoned in textbooks. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes passion and initiative, and along with the challenges come the exhilarating opportunities.

EdTech tools have literally exploded everywhere, so it would be impossible or at least impractical to list them all. However, here are some that we have tried at our school: the good, the bad, and the best.

The good

Edmodo – An effective social edu-platform that keeps us connected and organized

YouTube – Used it to flip the classroom

Duolingo– perfect for learning languages

Prezi – A way for both teachers and students to create engaging presentations

MakeyMakey – Maker kits that were a great addition to our MakerSpace

 

The bad

I really can’t mention any “bad” technologies. Yes, there were some we tried and eventually were not very excited about – but we realize that the very same tools could work wonders in other contexts. However, I must say I feel cautious about “one size fits all” EdTech classroom solutions – the kind that some companies try to push into schools. They offer you the skies of technological innovation –usually at a high cost- and promise you “effortless” integration. Materials are pre-done and ready to administer in the rented equipment. Two things worry me about these apparently brilliant solutions: One, with technology in the classroom, there is no such thing as effortless integration, ever. And if it is, then no one is really learning, at least as much as they could. We all need to stumble a little here and there to find a good match for our very diverse needs and interests – and those of our students’. Second, when you invest that much in something, you feel compelled to use it, even if it turns to be not what you expected. Out of economic guilt, you commit to your provider’s tech ideas, extinguishing your own.

Teachers and students should have the freedom to explore what works and what doesn’t in their unique environments. You can achieve the skies those companies offered you – and you don’t need to shed so much cash. Yes, you will work more, but the outcomes can be equal or larger.

Legos, cardboard and creativity play along with technology to create a stop motion animation movie

The best

These are the tools that have totally rocked our classrooms!

  1. Skype – we use it widely for connecting with schools around the globe, having virtual fieldtrips and inviting guest speakers to our classrooms. It’s easy to find partners in Microsoft Educator Community.
  2. Stop Motion Studio Creativity unleashed! My students created stop motion animation movies in a wide variety of themes- then we had a red-carpet premiere!
  3. Weebly – Easy and fun way to learn how to create websites and blogs. You can manage your students’ assignments from your educator profile.
  4. Paths to math: Created by fellow Top Global Teacher Blogger Maarit Rosi, it’s math teaching at its best. Students engage in real life problems to be solved – while having fun!
  5. PowToon – My kids absolutely love the animated videos you can create with this tool. Here is one example.

I am fully aware that there are so many more tools out there – and oh, we are so ready to welcome 2018 playing around with some of them!

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As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?

Exploring Genius Time in Schools

According to Fortune 100, Google is #1 in the list of best companies to work for – six years in a row. There are surely many reasons for this, and one of them might just be Genius hour.

If you were an engineer at Google, you could use 20% of your working time developing a project of your own interest –something you think could benefit the company- freely and independently. Creativity and innovation flourish when people are allowed to focus on their passions within work, and many successful Google products reportedly have been created during this time.

Could Google’s model be applied in schools? And if so, how?

For many years now, we have been implementing what we call “Enrichment Cloisters” at our school. It is not exactly Google’s Genius Hour – but the concept is similar and has proven to be effective in promoting creativity and motivation with our kids.

How does it work?

Every year, we set apart one full week in our school calendar, where regular classes will simply not take place. Instead, kids will work on a project of their choosing – within a range of options. Early in the school year, we poll the students to find about their interests: What would you like to learn about this year? What would you like to build, create or develop? What are you passionate about?

We use this information to design 8 to 10 different workshops or “cloisters”. The topics are chosen taking into account as much of the student’s input as we possible can. Teachers then choose which workshop will they mentor, moved by their own expertise or learning interests. We enlist parents as resources and co-mentors.

A crew from Al Jazeera filmed one of our cloisters -carpentry-  as part of their documentary on our school (Rebel Education Series)

We then publish the topics for the workshops and allow students to register to whichever cloister they like. There is no age or gender limitation. Boys and girls of all grades, 1st to 9th, share their working space for one week. We have covered topics such as carpentry, medicine, photography, architecture, radio, film and television, veterinary, ecology, magazine editing, restaurant entrepreneurship, science and technology, among many others.

At the end of the week we host an exhibition of products. Some of them are already complete, others represent an invitation for further development. There are both independent and collaborative outcomes of the experience. Kids report that this is their favorite week of the year.

A group of kids working on stop motion animation

Of course there are challenges. The only reason we do not host the cloisters twice a year or even more is time constraints. It is difficult enough to give up one week of regular lessons and still meet the curriculum. And surely, we would love to be able to offer even more cloister options –but hey, we are a small school with limited resources.

There are absolutely no grades at this “genius time”. And really, who needs them? Enthusiasm is so high you could use kids’ energy to light up a city.

Every child bears the seed of genius within. And one of the greatest joys for educators is providing the time and environment for it to gloriously emerge.

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How could Google’s “Genius hour” model be modified and utilized in schools?