EDM 2016 Tutorial - SAS Tools for Educational Data Mining

We're so excited for EDM 2016 in Raleigh, NC this year and even more pleased to announce that we'll be hosting a tutorial on using free SAS tools for educational data mining. This tutorial will take place on June 29 and will include a hands-on* demonstration of SAS® University Edition and an overview of SAS® Enterprise Miner™ through SAS® OnDemand for Academics. We hope to see you there!

* If you intend to participate in the hands-on activities, please bring a laptop with SAS University Edition already installed. The process can take up to an hour so there will not be time for it on the day of the tutorial. The free download is available at http://www.sas.com/en_us/software/university-edition.html

Tutorial Overview

This tutorial will focus on introducing SAS to participants and guiding them through the use of the suite of tools using relevant educational data sets. The tools that will be covered include:

  • SAS® Programming Language. SAS programming language is a powerful language designed specifically for intensive data analysis. This highly flexible and extensible fourth generation programming language has a clear syntax and hundreds of language elements and functions. It supports programming everything from data extraction, formatting and cleansing to data analysis, building sophisticated models, and generating reports. The SAS programming language is at the heart of the SAS University Edition tools.
  • SAS® Studio. SAS Studio is the development environment for SAS University Edition and runs through the web browser as well as in the cloud. It offers a powerful GUI interface that allows novice programmers to interact with data and perform analyses without writing any SAS code themselves. However, the SAS code is all generated behind the scenes and is visible to help users learn.
  • SAS® Enterprise Miner™. SAS Enterprise Miner helps users streamline the data mining process to create highly accurate predictive and descriptive models based on analysis of vast amounts of data. It includes innovative algorithms in the areas of statistics and machine learning to enhance the stability and accuracy of predictions, which can be verified easily by visual model assessment and validation. Users build process flow diagrams that serve as self-documenting procedures. These diagrams can be updated easily or applied to new problems without starting over from scratch. In addition to process flow diagrams, Enterprise Miner provides a programming interface for advanced users. Enterprise Miner allows integration with open source software for data manipulation and model comparison, the open standard PMML, and databases for scoring models without data movement.

Additional SAS tools that may be covered if it is of interest to the participants include tools for time series analysis, forecasting, matrix manipulations, and advanced statistics.

Tutorial Format

This tutorial will be presented as interactive instructions where users will be guided through the tools using relevant education data with a focus on techniques that are commonly required in the EDM community. The tutorial will also include an overview of SAS and its commitment to education research by a leading SAS executive. We also seek to gain feedback from participants prior to the event so that we can tailor the sessions to specific needs or questions. A tentative schedule is below:

Session 1: Introduction and SAS University Edition

9:00-9:15    Introduction – Introduction of presenters and participants and overview of SAS Analytics U

9:15-10:30  SAS Studio and SAS Programming Language

Coffee Break

Session 2: SAS Studio

11:00-12:30   SAS Studio

Lunch Break

Session 3: Keynote and SAS Enterprise Miner

14:00-14:30  Keynote – Keynote presentation will provide an overview of SAS and its commitment to education by discussing tools made available to researchers and products made available to K-12 educators and students.

14:30-15:30   SAS Enterprise Miner

Coffee Break

Session 4: Participant Requested Instruction

16:00-17:00   Additional Instruction – based on the goals of the participants we will delve deeper into aspects of the tools already presented or introduce additional tools as listed in the tutorial description.

17:00-17:30   Conclusion

In addition to the tutorial, instructional materials will be made available to participants. We will also provide guidance on avenues for further learning through online instruction.

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Paideia: A Remedy for Groupthink

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

_Z0C5636Ralph Waldo Emerson has long been lauded as America’s great champion of individualism and nonconformity, but this mantle may now be passing to Adam Grant, Wharton School business professor and bestselling author.

In his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant argues that educators neglect one of their most important duties: encouraging students to think for themselves. If we want our children to grow up and change the world, he says, if we desire that they resist the “groupthink” that too often infects the classroom and—inevitably—the workplace, we should give them genuine opportunities to take more control of their learning and challenge the status quo.

For Grant, college admissions offices are as much a part of the problem as our secondary schools. Instead of exploring their interests and pursuing innovative ideas, students enroll in test-preparation classes and follow conventional paths designed to help them build impressive resumes. A better approach, he thinks, is to include a creative portfolio as part of the admissions process. He even floats the idea that a policy of random admissions might encourage students not to focus so much on checking all the right boxes.

Interviewed in a recent issue of The Atlantic, Grant responds to Jessica Lahey’s question about how teachers can best introduce what she calls “novel, research-based approaches” without creating chaos in the learning environment. Among these approaches, she includes “student-led inquiry; small group, peer-to peer teaching; and problem-based learning.”

Grant acknowledges the potential for chaos when students are given more responsibility for their learning. He recommends that teachers offer a variety of pedagogical approaches. For example, he suggests alternating short lectures (10 minutes maximum), student-led activities using small-group jigsaw strategies, and tutorials designed to help students develop good questions. This combination will nurture curiosity, creative thinking, and confidence—qualities that can lead to success in the classroom and in the workplace.

The interviewer described these strategies as “novel,” which may come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who are familiar with the Paideia program. First introduced by philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler in The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982), Paideia (from the Greek paidos: the upbringing of a child) remains a powerful, innovative approach to educating all students to develop intellectual skills and to think critically and creatively. The National Paideia Center serves these days as a hub for all things Paideia.

Notice how closely the Paideia instructional scheme— represented by their Three Columns of Learning—resembles the one recommended by Adam Grant:

Key to the continuing success of Paideia is the fervor with which its practitioners have embraced new technologies to increase student involvement and academic skill development. For example, in Long Island City, New York, students at the K-12 Queens Paideia School use laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets to target content knowledge (Column 1) and intellectual skill development (Column 2). They also use—and learn to think critically about—multiple social media tools and apps. The Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia, provides 1680 computers and 930 iPads for its 956 students.

The research on Paideia is clear: the combination of these innovative strategies and technologies fosters student inquiry, original thinking, knowledge, and independence. As a result, students develop the competence and the confidence needed—as Adam Grant’s title says—to move the world.


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3 Learning Myths Busted by Brain Research


The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It can process emotion, memory, and learning while controlling body functions such as heart rate and breathing. How do our 100 billion neurons work together to accomplish the greatest human achievements in art, science, mathematics, engineering, government, and language?

Neuroscientists have made enormous progress in unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Researchers know that the brain changes continuously as we learn, a process called neuroplasticity.  Before teachers can fully make use of the latest brain research, we must first address common myths about how the brain works.

We only use 10% of our brains

No evidence supports the assertion that we only use ten percent of our brains. In fact, brain-imaging studies show that we use all parts of the brain. A large portion of the body’s energy is used to maintain and operate the brain. Why would the body invest so much in an organ and not make full use of that investment?

Even during sleep, the brain is active. Although there is much we don’t know about what the brain does during sleep, we do know that it alters between cycles of deep slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Some neuroscientists conjecture that the brain may use sleep time to prune and reorganize neurons.

Researchers know that various regions of the brain work together and neurons with similar functions cluster together.  Furthermore, should the brain experience trauma, it can reorganize and rewire itself to compensate for the loss. That’s pretty amazing!


We can learn without paying attention

Who hasn’t wished this one were true! Each moment, our senses are bombarded with stimuli that compete for attention. The brain uses this information to make sense of the world.

When our brains receive new information, a nerve cell transmits an electrical signal, triggering the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. As we learn, brain cells undergo chemical and structural changes, and there are changes in the number and strength of the connections between neurons.

Brain cells work together to sort and prioritize data competing for attention, a limited resource that drives learning. Selective attention is the way the brain allocates resources allowing us to tune out distractions. Instead, we focus on what matters; what doesn’t we ignore. By filtering out unessential information, the brain manages cognitive load.

How does your brain processes conflict between word-recognition and color-recognition?

See for yourself. How fast were you able to name the color? The delay in your reaction time is known as the Stroop effect, which occurs when our brain fights to inhibit the automatic process of word-recognition in favor of color-recognition—selective attention at work! Did you make errors?

Now, imagine a brain with a developing prefrontal cortex completing the same task. Consider your student’s reaction time, impulse control, and fatigue. Teaching children executive function and self-regulation skills will enable them to focus their attention, filter out distractions, and control distracting impulses. These are essential skills in school, work, and life.

We are either right-brained or left-brained

The myth explains that left-brainers are verbal and analytical and right-brainers are artistic and creative. Left-brainers tend to do better in mathematics and logic, whereas right-brainers excel in music and art. Left-brainers plan in advance and approach challenges in a rational, linear way. Right-brainers, on the other hand, tend to think in images rather than words, focus on the big picture, behave spontaneously, and have scattered thoughts. In this paradigm, left-brain and right-brain are merely two different ways of thinking, preferences, or personality traits.

It’s not quite that simple.

No one is fully right-brained or left-brained.

Before Roger Wolcott Sperry established that brain has specialized functions in the left and right hemispheres, the right hemisphere wasn’t even considered conscious!

Today we know that the brain’s two hemispheres are specialized, can communicate, and have the capacity to reorganize and rewire themselves. Environment and experience physically change the brain, so no two brains are completely alike.

Language, for example, is largely a function of the left hemisphere, but some components of language occur in the right hemisphere. Precisely how much will vary from person to person. The point is that many regions of the brain work together to process language.

We use the whole of our brains, and they change constantly as we learn. Teachers can change their students’ minds and brains—both literally and figuratively.

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Geometry: Explore, Learn, Prove

geometry headerAre you teaching a lesson on parallel lines? What about a lesson on the interior and exterior angles of polygons? If so, our Geometry lessons are the perfect resources for you!  We released our first one, Parallel Lines and Angles, this past fall. Since then, we've released four more. The lessons broaden the content of the tools in the Practice and Prove Geometry Series.

As with the lessons in our popular Algebra 1 Course, you'll find the following in the new Geometry lessons:

  • Alignment to all state standards
  • Compatibility with the PC, iPad, Chromebook, and other mobile devices
  • Interactivity and instructional feedback


Each lesson contains five sections: Get Ready, Learn, Practice, Review, and Quiz. Here’s what each section provides.

Get Ready

In Get Ready students are introduced to the lesson. They receive an overview, along with the lesson’s objectives and key vocabulary terms. Students may also practice prerequisite concepts and access guided notes.

get ready


The bulk of the instructional content is in Learn. Each page provides interactive components and guided practice. A palette is always available so that students can enter answers with appropriate math notation. As students work through the guided-practice problems, they receive immediate feedback. Congratulatory feedback reassures students; instructive feedback helps students persevere through mistakes.



To help students confirm what they have learned, practice provides additional problems similar to those found in Learn. Students receive immediate and instructive feedback. Once they finish, students can save, print, or send a summary of their results.



Review provides students with a lesson summary and access to additional practice resources and printable materials.



Finally, students assess their understanding of the lesson content with Quiz. Unlike Practice, students do not receive immediate feedback. Instead, their answers and work are submitted to a results page where they are then marked. Students can save, print, or send their results.


So check out the Geometry Lesson Series page. More lessons are coming soon!

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Successful Strategies of a Global Educator

globalEducator (1)
Regardless of grade level, subject, or academic setting, you can become a global educator and teach global competence. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

Get Informed – Start by broadening your own global citizenship and developing a multicultural awareness. Evaluate your own culture; think about your traditions, values, beliefs, and attitudes. Learn about other cultures, specifically their unique practices, and perspectives. The Global Competence Position Statement from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) outlines effective practices.

Know what it means to have globally competent students and to create a classroom environment that values diversity and global engagement. Understand what encourages students to achieve the four primary capacities identified by the Global Competence Taskforce: Investigate the World, Recognize Perspectives, Communicate ideas, and Take Action.

Image courtesy of The Council of State School Officers.

Image courtesy of The Council of State School Officers.

Consider any cultural mismatches in your classroom. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) methods use the students’ personal experiences and interests to engage learners while respecting their cultural integrity. This technique recognizes cultural and linguistic backgrounds to prompt student involvement. In Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters! Elizabeth Kozleski points out key features of CRT and how it “helps bridge the different ways of knowing and engages students from non-dominant cultures in demonstrating their proficiencies in language usage, grammar, mathematical knowledge and other tools they use to navigate their everyday lives.”

Get Collaborative –   Connect with culturally diverse people locally, nationally, or internationally. Utilize online learning and resources to foster cross-cultural experiential learning. Resources for Cross-cultural Interaction and Project Work highlights curricular tools, apps, and other technology resources that present different perspectives, authentic voices, and contextual knowledge.

Incorporate Project-Based Learning. Collaborate with colleagues to create interdisciplinary projects and inquiries. Or join interactive curriculum-based groups such as iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) to “learn with the world, not just about it.” Start by helping students learn about global collaboration. Introduce them to strategies for developing sensitive and effective communication and negotiation skills that use inclusive language to achieve fair outcomes when there are diverse points of view.

Take advantage of the collaboration between the National Education Association and VIF International Education. Together they have developed a collection of global learning lesson plans. Use their models to create new lessons or adjust your plans to build on global perspectives. The NEA also offers curriculum guides and teaching resources on global education and culturally responsive classroom activities that address different cultures and grades using the same basic framework.

Digital literacy is growing worldwide and coding campaigns such as the Hour of Code reach millions. You can collaborate with others in this exciting global movement.

Get Social – Turn to social media for professional development outlets and ideas. Here are some upcoming opportunities.

Global education is trending on social media. Be sure to check out these Twitter hashtags: #globaled, #globalclassroom, and #globaledchat.

Network with global educators through teacher training programs. Participants in the Teachers for Global Classroom Program (TGC) become global ambassadors in their classrooms, schools, and communities. Read about their experiences in the field and learn about their impact on others. Likewise, VIF  supports global educator development and has a VIF Global Schools program where teachers learn to implement global themes into everyday instruction.

So... get out there!

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When Digital Natives Become Teachers: Tech Problems Solved?

As the digital generation enters the workforce, does their technology skillset help them meet specific job-related challenges? This question has important implications for the digital-age classroom.

Writing on the future of work, David Mills notes, “the true ‘children of the internet,’ who won’t remember a life before broadband,… are headed en-masse to workplaces now.” Beginning teachers bring with them an almost instinctive comfort with technology, in particular with social media. It follows, then, that they're able to meld technology and pedagogy. Right? Hmmm. Perhaps not.

Recent findings suggest that "digital native student teachers have not necessarily become more comfortable keeping pace with the fast rate of change in technology." And an article in Educational Leadership, from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), highlights what may be the roots of the challenge.

In What's Missing from Teacher Prep? Gary Chesney and Janice Jordan discuss the discontent that beginning teachers voice about their university-level preparation programs. Here's a chief cause of that discontent: "the use of technology in preservice classrooms was limited, and training in how to integrate technology into lesson planning was virtually nonexistent." The authors recommend that teacher training programs "embed technology in their coursework in all classes." This concern casts a cold eye on digital native's "instinctive" abilities. Instead, like any job-related skill, technology integration must be learned and practiced.


Image courtesy http://tpack.org

Related to this challenge is “technology transience,” the rapid proliferation of technology tools, the frequent update of such tools, and their ever-shortening lifespans. Writing in the Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Lin Muilenburg and Zane Berge note that it's “incumbent upon teacher preparation programs to consider how to build teacher capacity to both integrate technology and manage the challenges brought about by technology transience.” The authors note that successful integration requires TPACK:  the interaction of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge. Their conclusion? “Effectively using technology in an ever-changing technological environment can be... quite complex.”


The need for support and training extends to the new teacher's classroom. Novice teachers face and surmount many challenges, but they can't be expected to design and implement their own high quality, standards-based lessons right from the start.  Of course, few try to accomplish this in a vacuum. In many education communities, grade-level learning teams provide some support. But even with such support, in the end, teaching is still an individual challenge.

In addition, the technology tools a teacher has mastered often differ drastically from the ones she finds in schools. For example, new teachers may be experienced Apple/iOS users presented with Chromebook carts, or Google/Android users might find themselves in a 1:1 iPad classroom. Moreover, pre-service teachers often achieve a level of comfort with a particular resource only to be presented with an entirely new, mandated program when they enter their new school. Neither of these challenges is insurmountable, but both steepen an already difficult first-year learning curve.

The implication is not that universities uniformly ignore the importance of technology in their teacher training programs. But all parties should be aware that a novice teacher’s mere familiarity with a technology does not automatically lead to effective integration in the classroom. That kind of integration requires ongoing support.

Well-implemented school and district-based technology integration plans can give teachers the support they need. In North Carolina, the Rutherford County school system has developed just this kind of program. The district's technology leadership team developed a comprehensive approach that included a 1:1 laptop initiative, professional development training, and direct support for teachers to find, evaluate, and integrate high-quality digital resources into instruction. The result was more effective use of technology across multiple middle schools and high schools in a single year.

The lesson seems clear. Assuming that new teachers automatically “get” technology is not a recipe for success. Instead, teaching educators how to use and integrate digital resources and providing a strong support system for technology integration can help ensure that classroom instruction meets the needs of digital-age learners.

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Five Things the Redesigned SAT Got Right

March came in like a lion for the high school students who were the first group to take the 2016 redesigned SAT. Now, while they wait an excruciating two months (May 17) for their scores, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of College Board’s SAT changes. We believe some key logistical and pedagogical elements of the redesign will please both students and teachers. Here’s why.

First, let's do the numbers...



What the College Board got right...

1. Logistical changes add clarity to a stressful day.

Students are happy to say goodbye to that fifth multiple choice option, and they won’t miss the ambiguity of wondering whether to “guess” or leave a question blank. So a few of those logistical changes get high marks immediately.

2. The focus is on real vocabulary.sat

Gone are the days of taking expensive courses to memorize lists of obscure vocabulary words completely out of context. Some questions even ask students to figure out a common word’s meaning based on its context.

3. All reading is evidence-based reading, and data analysis is a form of reading.

In the past, SAT reading questions often focused on identifying details in isolation. As the name suggests, the new Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section ask students to identify evidence as they answer questions across disciplines. Some reading passages address literature, but many topics focus on science and social studies. In parts of the Math section, students read a graph or table and then revise an associated passage to make the text consistent with the data presented. Text and number literacy work together just as they need to in the real world.

4. Correct answers are not the end of the story.

After students answer an interpretive question, the following question will sometimes ask them to explain why they chose that answer. This rewards the highest level of authentic comprehension. These questions often take this form: “Which choice provides the best evidence for the previous question?”

5. Primary-source documents are relevant again!

You remember those random paragraphs on obscure topics like language acquisition, the rationale for breeding endangered animals in zoos, or (worst of all) those rambling personal narrative passages the SAT used for reading comprehension questions in the past? In the new SAT every Reading section will include at least one primary-source document from American History. Founding Documents like Federalist Papers or The Declaration of Independence are particular favorites so Hamilton and Jefferson are back! Most students have already encountered these documents in their regular courses, so it's easy to be fully prepared the day of the test

(psst: Our Explore! Primary Sources tool is a great resource for helping students read and interpret primary sources. Check out this text and audio clip of  Barbara Jordan's famous 1974 speech to Congress, highlighted in the College Board sample question.)

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SAS Curriculum Pathways Teacher Institute


**The application is now CLOSED. We are currently reviewing applications.**

We at SAS Curriculum Pathways are excited to announce our inaugural Summer Teacher Institute! The application is open and ready for your submission.

We always say "in-service teachers are our number-one source for new features and vital to our development process." For these reasons, we are excited to host a cohort of educators this summer at SAS headquarters in Cary, NC. The cohort will work closely with our team for 8 weeks to critically evaluate our current resources, consult on future features, and iterate on their own ideas for the next big edtech resource.

Why should you apply?

There are plenty of reasons to apply; here are our top 5:

  1. To get paid for doing what you love--designing, developing, and evaluating edtech resources!
  2. To collaborate and network with other teaching professionals in the greater Raleigh-Durham area.
  3. To expand your working knowledge of our over 1,500 FREE resources.
  4. To develop or refine your software engineering skills.
  5. To get hands-on experience with the latest edtech gadgets--robots, 3D printers, iBeacons, tablets, and more.

But most of all, to work with great people at a great company.

Hurry! The deadline for applications is April 24th, 2016, at 11:59 pm EST. Start your application here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to be in Cary to participate?
Yes. All participants are expected to work on SAS campus in Cary, NC, for the 8-week institute. Participants are welcome to commute, but travel expenses will not be paid by SAS.

What will a day in the life of a Summer Institute participant look like?
We hope no two days will look alike. From resdesigning and updating current resources to consulting on new features and products, participants will be busy putting their classroom experiences and expertise to work with our team.

My school doesn't let out until late June (or starts back early August), can I still participate?
No problem. The institute schedule has a built-in flex week. The institute will run for 9 weeks (June 15 - August 17), but participants are only expected to work 8 of those weeks.

I have a beach week planned, can I still go on vacation?
Of course! The institute schedule has a built-in flex week. The institute will run for 9 weeks (June 15 - August 17), but participants are only expected to work 8 of those weeks.

I submitted my application, now what?
Stay tuned! We expect to have applications reviewed by the middle of May. We will be in touch soon via email.

I have a question about my application, can I contact you?
Absolutely. Send us an email: CurriculumPathways@sas.com.

Please use the comment section or email us with additional questions.

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#Edtech Planning: Why Implementation Matters

My high school calculus teacher once asked the class, “When do you know that your new shoes have just become your normal shoes?” Answers varied: “when the majority of the shoe shows wear or dirt,” “when you buy a newer pair of shoes,” “when the season changes.” I mused, “When you’re no longer excited about wearing them.”

Like finding Flyknits on markdown, everyone loves something sparkly, new, and functional. This tendency to revere and promote what is most current is not only incredibly human; it’s ubiquitous, particularly in regards to technology.

It’s indisputable that advances in technology have made indelible marks on the way we communicate, organize, and learn. Some of these changes have been incredibly positive: the internet has made it possible for anyone with an iPad and Wi-Fi to access torrents of information about subjects as varied as plant evolution and Persian poetry. Online communities provide some of the best informal learning and/or safe spaces for people invested in particular subcultures. While equitable access to web-enabled technologies and resources remains a domestic and international issue, the fervor with which people have embraced computer-based technology in their personal and professional lives is mirrored in the burgeoning ed-tech industry.

The evidence suggesting “gadgets in the classroom don’t improve learning…hasn’t stopped the educational technology market’s steady upward climb.” Not only has the overall market value risen to over $8 billion in 2014, rising school expenditures in ed-tech products have encouraged investors to pour money into related startups.

US Edtech Funding
This has led to a corresponding shift in the way that schools interface with ed-tech companies. In lieu of the lengthy but standard request-for-proposal process, many companies now benefit from demonstrating products in classrooms before they launch. Innovation centers, both public and nonprofit, exist to match schools and ed-tech companies based on mutual need.

Fundamentally, all this investment, hard work, and good intention exist to promote innovations that promise to solve, or at least ameliorate, some of education’s most intractable problems. But, amid all the buzz, we might recognize a tacit but tangible notion that ed-tech solutions are universally good and should be widely adopted, sans alteration or rejection, as an example of pro-innovation bias.

Pro-innovation bias is not a new phenomenon. Everett Rogers coined the term in his 1963 capolavoro, Diffusion of Innovations, but it remains an understudied facet of innovation theory today – probably because it’s a total buzzkill. It’s that voice inside your head that, facing something with a lot of promise, tells you not to get your hopes up or to proceed with caution. It’s not fun, but it does give good advice.

Namely, that implementation matters.

The success of any new endeavor, technological or otherwise, is undoubtedly shaped by how well it aligns with the culture of your organization. If you’re a teacher with students who love working in groups, think about the capacity of your technologies – be they devices, physical spaces, or applications – to promote collaboration in real time as opposed to reward individual success. If you’re an administrator in an informal professional environment, consider how formal performance reviews might impact employees, as well as the way you prefer to manage. These kind of mismatches – individual tools in collaborative environments, formal evaluations in informal environments, processual reforms in innovative spaces – tend to curb the duration and degree to which people use new things.

Also, resources matter. A shiny set of new laptops is certainly a boon to any teacher or administrator, but there must be logistic support in place to ensure that the laptops are kept in working order and that their users – including students, teachers, coordinators, and specialists – know how to use them effectively and efficiently. Certainly having the funds to cover technical support and training is an important component of implementing technology successfully, and yes, schools are notoriously resource-scarce, but simply communicating a clear plan of who is responsible for what goes a long way toward alleviating frustration down the line. Is there a go-to person on staff for technical issues? Do you have a colleague who is familiar with the app you’re using? Can go to her if you have questions? Do you know how to access training materials, and do you have them on hand? Is there a well-understood process for reserving time with devices?

Finally, innovations with lasting power tend to be flexible. With personalization and modification, innovations can become optimized for your or your organization’s use. It’s important though, in this process of mutual adaptation, to strike a balance. Too little modification and the innovation ends up controlling you. Too much modification, and you may compromise the parts of it which promise the greatest reward. Think about those formal performance reviews. If you administer them by the book, your run the risk of alienating your employees. Conversely, if you don’t take them seriously enough, you run the risk of communicating that performance isn’t important.

None of this is to say that technology doesn’t have a space in education. Clearly, we’re in favor of it. But next time you’re considering changing things up or wondering why everyone stopped using that note-taking app three weeks after you introduced it, maybe it’s worth assessing whether you’ve introduced the wrong thing or implemented the right thing wrongly.

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Four Tips for Helping Students Unpack an Argument

Perhaps it’s the frenzied primary campaign season that’s to blame. But for some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of our public discourse. More specifically, I’ve noticed that our political candidates are increasingly unwilling—or unable—to answer questions with logical, detailed answers. When asked to explain why they have taken a certain position on an issue, many tend to present shallow arguments with skimpy evidence. They rely instead on platitudes and emotional rhetoric.

The challenge for teachers, then, is to help students negotiate a world where clear language and well-structured arguments seem to be diminishing in importance.

The good news is that we can provide students with the knowledge and tools they’ll need to navigate the mish-mash of arguments and opinions thrown at them each day. For example, SAS Curriculum Pathways offers four lessons in a series called Quick Tutorials: Clear Thinking. Students learn to reason carefully, recognize faulty logic, and construct and assess written and spoken arguments.

Each tutorial is built on a crucial tip for helping students analyze the arguments they’re hearing every day—from televised political speeches and newspaper opinion pieces to conversations with their parents and peers.

Tip #1: Beware of distractions.

Sometimes speakers—through carelessness, laziness, or even dishonesty— intentionally disguise a weak argument by distracting their audience with calculated errors in logic. Clear Thinking: Distracting the Reader surfaces and explains these errors, including false dilemmas and slippery slope arguments. It also shows students how to spot arguments from ignorance (the illogical assumption that if something hasn’t been proven true, then it’s false) and complex questions (the connecting of unrelated ideas with the assumption that both are true).

Tip #2:  Make sure the evidence leads to a logical conclusion.

Clear Thinking: Missing the Point shows how a speaker sometimes provides evidence that fails to prove that the conclusion is true or relevant to the argument. When that happens, the argument is said to miss the point.

Another way a speaker might form a faulty conclusion is by begging the question.  In this case, she bases the argument on premises she mistakenly assumes the listener will agree with.

Tip #3: Watch for someone unfairly changing the subject when challenging an argument.

Clear Thinking: Changing the Subject shows how a “shifty” listener might challenge an argument by shifting the focus. For example, someone presenting an argument might be unfairly attacked by the listener, who might change the subject by attacking the character or motivation of the arguer rather than confronting the merits of the argument itself. These shifty characters might also change the subject by side-stepping the evidence and offering unrelated counter-arguments.

Students learn to spot a case of faulty logic called style over substance. When someone ignores an argument’s conclusions and attempts to counter with persuasive words and beguiling body language, then the response to the argument sadly relies on style, not substance.

Tip #4: Reject arguments that rely on emotions rather than reasons and evidence.

Clear Thinking: Looking for Evidence makes the case that strong arguments are supported with reasons and facts. Students learn to look for several types of emotional appeals. The appeal to pity, for example, occurs when a speaker lists reasons that the listener should pity him or his condition. Similarly, arguers sometimes apply the appeal to popularity, claiming that a proposal is true simply because many people believe it is true.

Students also learn about the appeal to force and the appeal to consequences. In both cases, the arguer threatens the listener by warning that failing to accept the argument will possibly lead to an unfortunate consequence. And if neither of these appeals does the trick, some people use loaded words (e.g., all reasonable people will agree…) to advance their argument.

Of course, none of these emotional appeals has anything to do with the merits of the argument.

Want to learn more about how to help students unpack an argument, check out these resources:

Political Palaver and the Passive Voice
Active Listening

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