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Critical Educational Projects

Most of my current professional work and research fall into two areas:

1. Teaching – I am a teacher

2. Teaching – I try to share my teaching experience using all the means available to me.

But what about “Think Big”, “Aim High”?

To that extent, some of my work and publications fall into one of the following long-term projects (as a realistic person, I am aware that the timeframe for those projects might span over years, or even decades; currently most of the effort goes into searching for people who have a similar vision – potential supporters and collaborators):

All projects are interconnected, but operationally independent.

Project I: The development of the uniform standard for measuring content knowledge in physics (and in other science subjects)

Click here for the corresponded video.

Click hear for a PDF file.

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1. Hello. I’m Dr. Valentin Voroshilov. First of all, I am a teacher. My best recommendations come from my students. My resume, my experience, and philosophy are also available online.

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2. STEM education has become a priority for our government and for the business community.

3. What is so special about Physics? Not many people realize that nowadays physics has entered many fields beyond just physics or engineering. First to mention, of course, is applications of computational physics to business. There are books, articles, conferences.

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4. Many people majoring or minoring in physics have become successful businessmen.

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5. And physics is changing many other human practices:

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6. Biology, medicine, even sport.

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7. But the true importance of physics is not in the computational methods developed in it and ready to be deployed in other fields. The true importance of physics is in enhancing reasoning abilities of every single person taking physics course. By the way: there is NO single TV show helping with developing reasoning abilities. There are a lot of shows on remembering simple facts. But only physics helps to enhance thinking skills during learning physics.

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8. Physics is a more powerful tool for advancing reasoning abilities than mathematics or computer coding! Learning physics means understanding how to bridge the abstract world of mathematics and the world of actual phenomena happening around us.

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9. Unfortunately, currently less than a half of high school students taking physics class.

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10. This means that 60 % of current high school graduates are not ready for the demands of the contemporary job market.

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11. That is why I am propelling the idea for the development of a plan with the goal of having all high school students taking physics course by the year of 2020.

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12. But this plan requires the developments of means for assessing the learning outcomes of all students taking physics courses. This is why it is crucial to develop a device (a tool, an instrument, a procedure), which all physics teachers could use to compare very accurately what students have learned in a physics course.

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13. We all know this. Physics is a science. Teaching physics is not. At least, if we use a procedural definition of a “science”.

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14. Personally, I do not like descriptive definitions like “science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (this is the top Google search result for “definition of science”). In fact, such a definition does not allow to distinguish a science from a religion. I prefer a procedural or operational definition, like “A science is an internally consistent body of knowledge based on the scrupulous and logical analysis of a vast amount of data”. In particular, this definition allows us to see when a school of thoughts becomes a science.

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15. Every science is based on a solid foundation of the results of intensive data mining.

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16. For example, Astronomy dropped Astrology and became a science when Kepler finished his analysis of huge amount of data collected before him, and wrote his famous laws.

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17. Educational data mining is a young field. It starts producing a large amount of data.

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18. However, having a lot of data without being able to make a comparison is like using different currencies without establishing exchange rates.

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19. The history of physics shows us a means for establishing the comparability we need – such means are called standards.

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20. We would have never had a hadron collider built in Geneva if after an almost hundred-year long journey physicists would not agree on a set of common standards.

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21. There are standards in education, too. But when an educator says “a standard”, he or she means something very different from what it meant in physics. In education, a standard is a description of “the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level”. However, people using the same educational standards still can use different measuring procedures leading to incomparable results.

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22. Based on current data all we can conclude so far is that: if we take two large groups of similar students, and one group of students will have a more extensive or divers learning experience (for example, more contact hours, or more time spent on certain exercises, or training through more different exercises, etc.) students from that group, on average, will demonstrate better learning outcomes than the students in a controlled group (this statement presents the 1st Law of TeachOlogy: click here for the full set)

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23. This conclusion becomes almost obvious if we employ the notion that a brain is basically a muscle, or a collection of muscles, the development of which strongly correlates with the variety and intensity of exercises it goes through (click here for more on this topic).

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24. In order to move beyond the obvious we need to adapt to teaching physics the same approach which had been adopted to doing physics.

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25. We need a standard which, like in physics, is an actual object, or a feature of an object, accompanied by a specific procedure which allows comparing similar features carried by other objects with the one of the standard (that is why “a standard” is also called “a prototype”, or “an etalon”). For example, a standard of mass is an actual cylinder. A verbal description such as: “A standard of mass looks like a cylinder “with diameter and height of about 39 mm, and is made of an alloy of 90 % platinum and 10 % iridium” would not work as a standard, because it is impossible to compare the mass of an object with a sentence.

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26. I propose that, following physics, “a standard” for measuring learning outcomes must satisfy the following five conditions:

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27. I have more than just a belief. I have developed a specific approach which will lead to designing such a standard. The approach is based on using MOCCs (MOCC stands for “a map of operationally connected categories”); the link on the screen leads to a detailed description of what MOCC is and whys to use it (or click here for the updated version).

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28. I believe that the time has come to create a coalition of individuals and institutions who would see as an achievable goal developing the universal standard for measuring learning outcomes in physics (and then to apply the same approach to other STEM subjects). Essentially, the process of the development of the uniform standard for measuring content knowledge is a consensus building process among all actors in the field (similar to the consensus building process which has led to the development of the International standards in physics and metrology). In its simplest form, this approach has been applied once in the past, and proved to be an efficient on a scale of one university.

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29. The methodology or framework for the deployment of such a standard is following “a driving exam” approach: instead of using a verbal description of what students should know and be able to do (a.k.a. “educational standards”), making them to demonstrate what they should know and be able to do using a “standardized” collection of exercises and actions (a.k.a. “physics standards”).

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30. This methodology is based on four fundamental principles.

31. For a given level of learning physics there is always a set of problems, which can be used to probe student’s knowledge and skills. For a given level of learning physics a set of problems, which can be used to probe student’s knowledge and skills, has a finite number of items.

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32. The most important principle says

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33. Using the fourth principle (and new terminology), we can classify all problems based on the structure of the internal connections between the quantities involved in constructing their solution.

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34. For example, here are samples of problems which are congruent or similar to each other.

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35. It is very important, that

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36. For the three previous problems, the root problem sounds like the one at the bottom of the screen.

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37. To help us to classify all root problems we can use the so-called MOCCs (a map of operationally connected categories).

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38. A complete set of root problems can be used to describe desired and different levels of learning outcomes of physics students.

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39. The first step toward the association would be agreeing on the set of root problems (classifying them based on the difficulty).

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40. Project II:

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41. Today there is NO science of education.

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42. Scientific activities in education are in a pre-science stage. We have so far “the alchemy” of education. According to Dr. Kauffman and others, the research in the field is currently in a pre-science state. Most of the research conclusions can be summarized in a single statement: if we take two large groups of similar students, and one group of students will have a more extensive or divers learning experience (for example, more contact hours, or more time spent on certain exercises, or training through more, or more difficult, or different exercises) students from that group, on average, will demonstrate better learning outcomes than the students in a controlled group. Period.

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43. This conclusion becomes almost obvious if we employ the notion that a brain is basically a collection of muscles.

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44. To propel a science of education to a true science we don’t need to reinvent a wheel. We just have to follow the strategy used in developing the science of physics. We all know that billions of dollars have been spent to build research facilities to study.

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45. or even to conquer the physical world.

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46. Billions of dollars are being spent for building research facilitates to study biology, and medicine.

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47. We have hundreds of research hospitals, but ZERO research schools. And there is ZERO investment into building research facilities designed specifically to studying learning and teaching processes.

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48. The Government, the NSF, charitable and philanthropic organizations do finance various projects in the field, but the majority of the projects aim at solving social issues, like insufficient teacher preparation, adoption of new standards, bringing technologies in a classroom, and others.

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49. To make a transition from a pre-science state (like alchemy) to becoming a true science (like chemistry) we have to treat education as space exploration. The field of education needs research facilities designated specifically to studying learning and teaching processes.

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50. We have to start from two questions. What to study, and how to structure this facility?

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51. I’ve been teaching math and physics for many years, and I know that everyone can get an A, but different people need a different path and a different time to achieve that. However, teaching today is like telling every marathon runner: “You have 2 hours to run, whoever runs the farthest – wins.”

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52. Many words are said about differentiation in learning. Those words however are just proclamations not based on any solid data. Nowadays we know only in general how people learn. But we have no idea how much time would Ben Smith need to spend to learn “Breaking numbers apart by addition”.

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53. Yes, different people have different learning styles. We know that.

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54. But how much time would it take to a child of a specific gender, race, socio-economic background, attention span, temperament, and other individual characteristics to master a given skill of a given subject? That we do not know.

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55. For every child, there is a finite number of individual characteristics describing his or her learning, behavioral, and social styles. There is a finite number of subjects to learn, and within each subject there is a finite volume of knowledge to learn, and a finite number of skills to master. It should take a finite amount of time to study all relevant correlations. We need to study those elementary learning acts which different children need to enact to learn a given skill.

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56. The research facility for conducting such a study must be developed around a specifically designed school, or a network of schools. Each school will be the nucleus of a facility where all students and professionals work together, with the whole world watching 24/7.

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57. It will generate data sufficient for promoting current educational research to a true science. The research will lead to development of new teaching tools and learning aids.

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58. Two of the founders of the Breakthrough prize, Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner, pledged to spend one hundred million dollars on the search for extraterrestrials. It did not occur to them, or to anybody else, that for many teachers their students do look like aliens.

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59. I am calling on philanthropists to spend money on building research facilities designated specifically to studying learning and teaching processes, so in the coming decades every educator could point to scientific data supporting the method he or she uses, or recommends.

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60. Project III recognizes the most important role teachers play in education. The quality of education is directly related to the quality of teaching, which is directly related to the quality of teacher professional development

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61. This project is based on a specific version of the Activity Theory described in Chapter 16 of the book: “Facilitating In-Service Teacher Training for Professional Development”

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62. When attending a professional development event, a teacher can take a passive position (“I am just looking for something new and interesting”). Or, the teacher can take an active position (“I have a problem and I need to find a means to solve it”).

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63. The latter position significantly increases chances that after the event the teacher will be making some changes in his or her teaching practice. And that is what we all want from a professional development event.

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64. “When I started my career, I did not have a say in the menu of courses that my district taught. We logged into a training system and chose, based on what was being provided. The problem was that none of the provided sessions applied to what I needed, and when district requirements were that a certain number of hours be earned through in-district training, it meant that a large majority of teachers were taking courses just to earn the hours. That was more than 10 years ago, and sadly, in many school districts, this is still the case.” This is a quote from a book by Rafranz Davis, “The Missing Voices in EdTech”, 2015 (CORWIN)

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65. Various researchers have been looking for methods to ensure that after attending a professional development workshop a teacher will bring into his or her practice new knowledge presented at the workshop. One of the practices which proved to be efficient is based on the activity theory, and called “Professional Designing”.

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66. Professional Designing helps to ignite and maintain a process of transformative development of an individual or an institutional educational practice. The theoretical foundation of this branch of the research can be found in publications of G.P. Shchedrovitsky (1964, 1966, 1971, 1977, 1981), and his colleagues, such as N.G. Alekseev (1992) and followers such as A.P. Zinchenko (2014).

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67. By a definition: Professional Designing is an intellectual activity resulting in: (a) constructing an image of the ideal/perfect professional situation (whatever it might mean for a given person), and (b) planning activities aimed at the transformation of the actual professional situation making it closer to the ideal one; the material result of a professional designing is a project. The link on the screen leads to a broader description of Professional Designing and its application to teacher professional development: http://www.teachology.xyz/pd.htm.

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68. In order to transform his or her professional situation, teachers (a) must be willing to change their own practices, and (b) must be able to make the change. This means that professional skills, abilities, competencies of a teacher should include not only specific subject-related skills or teaching-related personal qualities, but also “meta-skills”, allowing to manage processes of idealization (i.e. drawing mental images), reflection, goal-setting, action scheduling, and so on, which are required for transforming a human practice. A combination of such skills forms the ability for designing the own teaching practice.

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69. A professional designing is an activity that takes place primarily in the area of personal values and motives, goals and objectives, actions and procedures, problems and possible solutions. When conducting a professional designing, or shortly – when designing, one does not deal with real objects or subjects, but manipulate with the abstract concepts relevant to the one’s professional practice (here and below a person conducting a professional designing is called a designer, or a projecter).  The first product of a professional designing is the formation of a project idea.

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70. In simple terms, a project idea of a designer describes in his or her words “what is wrong with what I do”, and “how will I fix it”. The presence of a project idea does not automatically ensure its future realization, but it indicates the direction of the future actions of the designer; the project idea becomes the basis for the development of a detailed professional project – i.e. a textual representation of a current professional situation, certain professional problems, and proposed steps for solving those problems, including criteria and procedures for assessing the progress.

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71. The most important product of a professional designing is a personal professional project, the existence of which significantly increases chance for a teacher implementing in the future practice knowledge presented during a workshop.

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72. A professional designing – as a human activity – is essentially situational; its ultimate goal is to find mechanisms for self-transforming a concrete current professional situation of a projecter. A projecter never works alone; there is always a set of active or potential collaborators (or competitors). An effective form for coordinating professional goals and actions, based on the implementation of project-aimed activities, is the so-called “activity-organizing workshop”. AOW participants usually represent coworkers from an institution or an institutional entity, or represent the same district.

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73. Communicating processes ignited during AOW and aimed at unveiling images, views, and opinions of participants about professional activities of themselves and others are complicated and sometimes emotional. That demands the involvement of an experienced moderator (a.k.a. a “methodolog”, a.k.a. a “methodologist”; the former term is more broadly used in the context of AOW). Guided by a methodolog, AOW participants become actively engaged into an individual professional designing. As the result of this work, the participants inevitably advance their ability to conduct a professional designing.  The effectiveness of AOW strongly correlates with the experience of a methodolog moderating the event.

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74. It is very important for the success of the whole event that participants would be willing to openly discuss their teaching experience (including such personal and usually internal matters as their values, moral limits, beliefs, life expectations, professional aptitudes, goals and actions). This conversation usually leads to an eventual realization of the existence of some gap/disconnect/incoherence between the results and the structure of actual teaching practice and the declared teaching goals and methods. When the existence of this gap is clearly presented to a participant, the so-called “problematic situation” has been reached.

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75. All precedents of AOW demonstrate that when teachers are immersed into a professional designing it positively affects their teaching practice in general and an ability to self-improve their teaching practice in particular. The conclusions on the effectiveness of the project-oriented methods of organizing teacher professional growth were made __on the basis of individual interviews, surveys, and reflective feedback from teachers, and observations of teachers’ activities during events and while teaching students before and after events.

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76. The projects described in this presentation aim at transforming the way education is currently being reformed. We have to reform educational reform. And the first thing we need to do is to change our perception of education as an art, or as a sport. Effective teaching is based on a deep understanding of learning processes, and constant professional growth of our teachers. Thank you.

In the end, I would like to stress again that all the projects are fo a long-term nature and require collaboration among many actors in the field of education.

Thank you,

Dr. Valentin Voroshilov

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Links do the individual parts of this presentation:

1. Physics as an entry in STEM education (http://www.teachology.xyz/2020.html).

2. A universal standard for measuring content knowledge in STEM (http://www.teachology.xyz/FW.htm).

3. Propelling a science of education by developing facilities for studying learning and teaching (http://www.teachology.xyz/30uS.html).

4. Reforming educational reform by inviting teachers into active forms of professional development (http://www.teachology.xyz/PrD.htm).

But it is worthwhile to see the whole picture.

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tags for this web page:

Education, education reform, innovations, education innovations, physics, STEM, teachers, teacher professional development, science, science of education, data mining, educational data mining, closing a gap, school innovation, school transformation, school district, superintendent of schools, charity, philanthropy, philanthropist, non-profit for education, charitable foundation, business for education, businesses for education, business leaders, for education, Mark Zuckerberg, Zuckerberg Chan foundation, Chan Zuckerberg initiative, Bill Gates, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Elon Musk, Yuri Milner, Warren Buffett, business for education, National Science Foundation, NSF.