Paul Wezman changed my daughter’s life.  He is an extraordinary teacher that in the mid-90’s was making full use of instructional technology.  Here’s a note from him about the importance of our perceptions of what kids can do and the importance of effective instruction.  He’s a middle school math teacher

Four years ago I asked myself do I really believe, do We really believe that our children are just as smart as children from Europe and Asia? To respond with anything but yes, is to then believe that our children do not have the capacity to achieve beyond what we are doing now.  That belief then disables… I believe that our culture, our belief that what we have done historically, is perceived by adults to be acceptable because in doing so it validates their own past.  It makes what has been done to them, and what they have experienced …ok.  So if mom and dad, grandma and grandpa didn’t take algebra until 9th  grade, then  for our children to take it in 9th grade is acceptable, like in the past, and nothing really changes.

Our culture really does not support rigor. We are too focused on our own entertainment, our self-gratifications to apply the behaviors that support rigor. Our culture levels out any attempt at change, gradually reducing creativity to mediocrity, to keep things the way they have been…

I changed my belief 5 years ago.  I believed that my students could do what European and Asian students could learn and challenged them to try.  I changed my instructional strategies to focus on unifying  concepts in line with Singapore and European teaching methods. The results are that 50% of my 60 students passed high school algebra with 85% of the students testing above 85% on course assessments, beating most high schools…Nearly half passed at over 90%. In contrast, 30 students out of 200 other 7th graders formed the 2nd algebra class.  They produce similar results, however, they represented only a small proportion of the group.

I used to think that if we didn’t change what we did we would  continue to get the same results. Now, if we change our belief and change what we do, we can accomplish anything. My second group of 7th grade students is showing that they too can succeed at high school algebra…if someone believes, and teaches them well.

Socrates believed that his mission was to guide his students to discover what they already knew.  I think looking back to what was said 2000 years ago may be the enlightenment for the future.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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