TypingClub "Hacks"

Guest Post by Andrew from MatchNext

 

Our 5th graders are learning how to type. I described the software, TypingClub, in my last post.

We’ve had to figure out how to do it right. Here’re all the questions we’ve been trying to answer, and ‘hacks’ we’ve been testing out.

 

Question 1: Should kids work silently and independently, or...can they talk to each other?

Our answer: silently and independently

  1. First, we started off silently and independently, but it got a little stale.

  2. So we started letting them work in pairs where a student would ‘coach’ the kid that was typing. This was okay for a while, but was really hard to execute. Unless you had a really experienced person in the room really managing and focusing on the conversations, it wasn’t all that productive (also, the whenever a kid was ‘coach,’ they weren’t getting any or their own practice done). You don’t become a better runner by telling someone else how to run.

  3. So we settled back on ‘silent and independent.’  But I think we solved the problem of it getting stale with the ‘tests.’ More on these later.


Question 2: how do you prevent kids from becoming ‘people who have to look at their hands when they type’?

Our answer: strategically cut-up tops of copy paper boxes to cover their hands. Here’s what those look like:

    a. First, we made everybody use the boxes, all the time. Didn’t work for true beginners. They didn’t even know where the home row was, so they were constantly lifting the boxes up. Then we realized they were also not even using the home row, but we were missing it because their hands were covered. b. When this failed, we made the boxes totally optional. Another mistake. Kids got really far into the program, but they were becoming keyboard starers and couldn’t do all the levels without looking down. They’d use the boxes sometimes, but because we weren’t requiring it, they just barreled through all the levels. We had a bunch of kids get really far, but it was a false positive – they hadn’t even memorized where all the keys were. c. Boxes are still optional whenever a kid wants to practice, but now we require kids to use a box when they take a ‘test’ (more on that below). So if a kid wants to ‘pass’ a test level, they need to memorize the keys and be able to type without looking down.     So what’s a test? Answer: What we use to check and make sure kids aren’t getting too deep into the program with bad technique, or not actually memorizing the keys.   a. First (before the tests), we trusted to program to ‘assess’ their progress. We tried to monitor and catch kids as they used the wrong fingers, then we’d correct them in the moment. Once they started getting deep into the program, though, there were just too many balls in the air. More and more kids were slipping by with bad technique, and it was getting too cumbersome to manage. b. Once we realized this wasn't working, we introduced the testing. We assigned a couple levels as 'test' levels. We chose the ones that were basically review. For example, 'Level 9' was a review of the 'home row' ("A" through ";" on the keyboard). Here's what it looks like:  

 

 

a. First, we made everybody use the boxes, all the time. Didn’t work for true beginners. They didn’t even know where the home row was, so they were constantly lifting the boxes up. Then we realized they were also not even using the home row, but we were missing it because their hands were covered.

b. When this failed, we made the boxes totally optional. Another mistake. Kids got really far into the program, but they were becoming keyboard starers and couldn’t do all the levels without looking down. They’d use the boxes sometimes, but because we weren’t requiring it, they just barreled through all the levels. We had a bunch of kids get really far, but it was a false positive – they hadn’t even memorized where all the keys were.

c. Boxes are still optional whenever a kid wants to practice, but now we require kids to use a box when they take a ‘test’ (more on that below). So if a kid wants to ‘pass’ a test level, they need to memorize the keys and be able to type without looking down.  


 

So what’s a test?

Answer: What we use to check and make sure kids aren’t getting too deep into the program with bad technique, or not actually memorizing the keys.

 

a. First (before the tests), we trusted to program to ‘assess’ their progress. We tried to monitor and catch kids as they used the wrong fingers, then we’d correct them in the moment. Once they started getting deep into the program, though, there were just too many balls in the air. More and more kids were slipping by with bad technique, and it was getting too cumbersome to manage.

b. Once we realized this wasn't working, we introduced the testing. We assigned a couple levels as 'test' levels. We chose the ones that were basically review. For example, 'Level 9' was a review of the 'home row' ("A" through ";" on the keyboard). Here's what it looks like:

 

  c. When a student takes a test, they need to do a couple things.      i. Cover their hands with a box.      ii. Remove the image of the keyboard/fingers from the screen (pictured below).   

 

c. When a student takes a test, they need to do a couple things.

     i. Cover their hands with a box.

     ii. Remove the image of the keyboard/fingers from the screen (pictured below). 

 

 

     iii. Get at least 95%, and type at a certain speed in order to pass (the speed varies depending on the level).

d. If they pass, they need to mark their progress on a chart. Here’s what that looks like.



 

The good parts about doing it this way:

 

  1. It’s simple. Very simple. There’s nothing to plan, you just need to be in the room and make sure students are working.

  2. The chart makes it easy to check a kid’s progress. At any time, I can pull a kid aside and have them do a level they said they passed.

  3. Students are 100% accountable for their own progress. We’ve got some kids that nail the practice and are pretty much done with the program, other kids that aren’t getting the practice they should be getting. If a kid isn’t getting it done, it shows.  

 

The ‘meh’:

 

  1. You can’t watch every kid the way you’d want. You’re still ‘managing,’and putting a lot of trust in them to do it right. If they’re doing it wrong and forming bad habits, though, you need to figure out a way to iron these out. But at least it doesn’t go unchecked for very long.


 

Sidenote:

I found this cool program called ‘Nitro Type.’ It’s a racing game. Kids type sentences. The faster they type, the faster they can get a car to move. It’s fun, they love it.

 

We let students that pass level 90 on TypingClub play Nitro Type. We’ve got a couple kids that are there, and everyone else gets jealous when they’re on Nitro Type. Kids beg to play it during breaks and at home, too.


 

--


if you want to talk shop: andrew.jeong@matcheducation.org

Software Review: TypingClub

Guest Post by Andrew from Match Next

Software Review: TypingClub


Ever see someone pecking at a computer keyboard like this with their fingers?

No offense to our typing-challenged readers, but it’s tough to watch. I’ve gotten into debates before with others about whether kids need formal typing instruction, or whether they should just ‘figure it out.’ Some people say that everyone eventually figures out ‘what works best for them,’ and that we don’t need to push a particular style of typing. I’ll call this the ‘Tim Tebow Theory of Typing.’ In college, Tebow figured out a throwing motion that “worked best for him.” And it worked pretty well - well enough for two Heismans.Then he decided he wanted to play in the NFL. Ask Belichick how he felt about ‘Tebow’s way’ (and how many millions of dollars Tebow missed out on because he couldn’t fix his ridiculously long throwing motion).


So if you’re like us and want students typing with all ten fingers and using the home row, here’s a great program we’ve found. It’s called TypingClub.

 

The basics:

Typing Club is an online program that teaches students how to type using the correct fingers.

I’d rate it an 8 out of 10. I haven’t spent much time trying out other ones, so if you have one you like, it may very well be as good or better than what we’re using. If you’re looking for something to use, though, TypingClub is a great option.

 

How it works:

There are 100 ‘lessons,’ though you can add more or make your own if you want). Some are introductory levels, some are practice levels, and others are review levels. Here’s Level 1: Intro to “f” and “j” (the pink arrows added by me):

And here’s level 9, a review level of the home row:

Students type the letters that are shown above. Green highlighting means they hit the right key, red means the hit the wrong key. On the bottom right of the screen, they can see both their speed and accuracy. There’s also a picture of a hand and a keyboard. The highlighted key + fingertip shows which finger the user should use to type a key. Students can choose to turn this option off (or the teacher can just remove this option completely when setting up the level). More next time on how we’ve used this option.

I also set a few minimum requirements for students to “pass” a level. They need to get 95% of the keystrokes right and type at a speed no less than 15 words per minute (wpm) in order to pass a level. If they don’t hit these benchmarks, they have to do the level over again.

Those numbers have worked pretty well for us. I picked 95% sort of randomly randomly, and I picked 15 wpm because that’s about how fast our average student can handwrite.


The good: Simplicity. It’s simple to use, simple to navigate, simple to analyze kid data, simple to sign in.

Customizability. You can move levels around, delete student progress to have them redo certain activities, set minimum requirements for passing specific levels, or even rewrite entire levels if you feel like a particular one isn’t good enough.

 

The bad: It’s not really ‘fun.’ If you’re like me and grew up on Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, you know the thrill of flinging insects from your windshield as your ‘car’ responds to your typing speed. TypingClub has no such games.

There’s another challenge that’s not really the program’s fault – it’s hard to enforce ‘correct’ finger usage and no-look typing (that is, typing without ogling your hands). We’ve had some trouble with this. We’ve tested a few ‘hacks’ for this puzzle, but more on this in a later blog. But warning: if you don’t solve this, all the data you get from the program is worth about as much as Tebow is to an NFL squad.

 

The data

There’s a dashboard with all sorts of nifty analytics about student’s progress through the program. You can pretty much see everything, like

  • the number of attempts students made on any level

  • students’ typing speed (wpm)

  • typing accuracy

  • # of attempts on each level, etc.


Here’s a picture of one of the data-dashboards:

Some interesting things here. But like I said, it doesn’t really mean anything if your students’ aren’t using ‘correct’ fingers, or don’t actually learn where the keys are.

 

Next time: I’ll describe all the ‘hacks’ we’ve tested to get students using the program correctly. Stay tuned.

--

if you want to talk shop: andrew.jeong@matcheducation.org

 

Zooming Out, Part 4

Some of my favorite people.

Robert Pondiscio, who teaches a civics class at Democracy Prep when he's not writing about ed policy, argues for a very specific approach to literacy in elementary school.  His paper here

Dacia Toll, describing how Achievement First -- pushed by the higher bar of Common Core -- is changing how they teach English, precisely aligned with Robert's paper, which is E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge argument. 

I blogged about that a few months ago here, mentioning both those vagabonds. 

For No Excuses charters, remember.  NY State has Common Core exams 2 years before other states.  Top charters like AF got hammered on the new, harder tests.  This led to a productive rethink of how reading is taught.  Since NYC is headquarters for AF, KIPP, and Uncommon -- all of whom have since learned from Success -- that is a change you need for your school.  If you haven't done it yet, you need to dig in here. 

*

Tom Loveless, who I had back in 1997 for an intro to ed policy class, which kinda pulled me into this world, was describing research on de-tracking.   (None of which takes place in charters; most of it is 20 years old).  De-tracking in middle school math specifically.  At Wilson Central Junior High, back in 1982, my math class was "advanced" and then other kids were "regular." 

Some advocates argued tracking was bad.  So many middle schools stopped tracking.  Though almost no high schools, interestingly.

Anyway, Tom pushed against that narrative.  It was more complicated. 

Tom describes how de-tracking seems to create net winners and losers.  The winners are the low kids.  The losers are the high kids.  The average is zero. 

In typical high-poverty schools, the losers therefore are the top poor black or Hispanic kids. 

In the burbs, those schools are more likely to track.  And even when that doesn't happen, SWAT teams of tutors are hired by the parents.  So top kids in suburban schools are winners. 

His paper here.  Tom thinks the lower kids should get Common Core and the advanced kids should get something with a higher bar. 

*

Okay, folks.  Thanks to Fordham Foundation and the speakers for the Zoom Out.  Good food for thought.  

Zooming Out, Part 3

Hi.  I just had lunch at the Fordham conference.  Let me ask you something. 

How many of you -- or your colleagues in high-poverty schools -- served in the military? 

If it's like Match (where I'm a board member and cheerleader), the number is: quite low.  We don't know much about the military directly, and given our political leanings, mostly what know we hear on NPR or read in the New York Times. 

Now I'm listening to Hugh Price.  He used to run the National Urban League.  His new book is Strugglers Into Strivers: What the Military Can Teach Us about How Young People Learn and Grow. 

Mr. Price has been studying the following question for many years: "What can be learned from the military about educating and developing young people who are struggling in school and in life?" 

He writes/says:

Why am I, as someone who never served in the military, interested in this issue? My curiosity dates back to when I was growing up here in Washington, D.C. I remember how some of my classmates in my middle school and high school, fellows we quaintly called knuckleheads and thugs, would drop out of school. A few years later, I'd encounter them. They had either enlisted in the Army or else been drafted. They were ramrod straight in their uniforms, full of purpose. I didn't know what had transformed them, but I knew something in that two-year period, in that experience in the military, had transformed them.

I've heard it said that the military invests more in understanding human development than any other institution on earth. The military arguably has the best track record in our society when it comes to training and advancing minorities.

In conjunction with the paper that we prepared for Brookings, we looked at basic training, JROTC and the JROTC academies, and public military schools. We also learned about a fascinating program that ran for a while in Mississippi called the Pre-Military Development Program. It was for young people trying to get into the Army who couldn't pass the qualifying test. So they enrolled in this intense program. In a matter of five or six weeks on average, they gained a grade and a half or two grades in reading and math. We also looked at the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. This is a quasi-military residential youth corps for youngsters who have actually dropped out of school.

In the course of looking at these programs, we identified certain generic and common attributes across many of them. These include an emphasis on belonging, a strong focus on motivation and self-discipline, emphasis on academic preparation, close mentoring and monitoring of how youngsters are doing, accountability and consequences, demanding schedules, teamwork, valuing and believing in the young people, believing that they can succeed, structure and routine, frequent rewards and recognition, and of course, an emphasis on safe and secure environments.

Over the last couple of years I have been co-chairing a Commission on the Whole Child for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Development. The entire thrust of the commission is that for kids who are not functioning well in school, it isn't enough to focus strictly on academic preparation. These youngsters have a lot of issues and needs in their lives that have to be addressed as well if they're going to become successful students and successful adults.

Price calls for summer immersion quasi-military style programs, quasi-military high schools, and quasi-military residential programs for young people in jail. 

In our research, we didn't seek to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these programs work. That level of proof doesn’t exist yet.

Instead, we were looking for signs of significant promise. Based on the encouraging academic and developmental gains that we learned about, we decided that these programs offer that kind of potential for youngsters. In fact, instead of calling them the antidote for dropout factories, I prefer to think of these quasi-military programs as graduation factories.

It's an interesting idea.  I could imagine a charter pilot version of Price's idea, with the chance to become a full CMO if successful.  If you're thinking of starting your own charter, you might want to meet Price -- he's a thinker and my guess is he's quite interested in supporting social entrepreneurs who want to take his ideas and run with them. 

One challenge occurs to me.  Within the charter movement, I wonder if the headwinds are blowing against Price's vision. 

The darlings of the charter movement, schools like KIPP and so forth, are being (unfairly) attacked for having discipline policies deemed too strict.  Any quasi-military school would probably look at KIPP as hopelessly lax, but compared to many high-poverty schools where "anything goes," it's certainly true that KIPP is stricter. 

My sense is that a new trend, even in the last several months, is some top charters are reallocating spending to satisfy these critics.  They taking $ from extra-curriculars, school trips, books, advanced classes, art, sports, and just about any sort of item that could be perceived as discretionary -- and reallocating for more full-time staff to work with a small group of kids who struggle to adhere to the rules.  The same thing is happening with limited teacher time -- reallocation towards time-consuming discipline procedures and therefore away from other core topics like lesson prep, helping strugglers after school, showing up for the basketball game to cheer, and so forth. 

So an "openly quasi-military" charter might face challenges in getting approved in Northeastern states.  But elsewhere in the country, I could imagine community support at a very high level. 

Price is finishing up his remarks.  He strikes me as a modest guy with big ideas. I hope some social entrepreneur out there considers them.  He's describing some particularly challenging kids that most schools of choice, whether run by districts or charter, don't serve. 

*

Checker Finn asks: Why aren't JROTC programs enough?  Or the public military academies? 

Price: JROTC is just extra-curricular, not a full-blown school.  And the military academies don't serve the kids I'm talking about, with the level of social and emotional issues. 

Zooming Out, Part 2

A bit more from Fordham Foundation conference. 

Bob Schwartz is a Harvard professor and former dean.  Took his class back in 1997, loved it.  Since then he's been kind and encouraged my efforts, including introducing me to Match's first board member, Denise Blumenthal.  (And even just now, he gave me an amateur jazz lover's tip: you can stream live performance from Smalls)

Bob wrote a paper in 2011 with Ron Ferguson.  Pathways to Prosperity.  It was controversial.  Bob explains:

First, if less than one young person in three is successfully completing a four-year college degree by age twenty-five, does it really make sense to organize high schools as if this should be the goal for all students?

Second, if respected economists are now telling us that at least 30 percent of the jobs projected over the next decade will be in the “middle skills” category—technician-level jobs requiring some education beyond high school but not necessarily a four-year degree—shouldn’t we start building more pathways from high school to community colleges to prepare students to fill the best of those jobs, especially in high-growth, high-demand fields such as information technology and health care?

And third, if countries like Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland have built vocational systems that prepare between 40 and 70
percent of young people to enter the workforce by age twenty with skills and credentials valued by employers—and if these countries have healthy economies and much lower youth unemployment rates than the United States—shouldn’t we study their vocational policies and practices to see if there are lessons we can adapt to our own setting?

Those were good questions.  Over coffee this morning, I asked Bob what response was to his report. 

He said that in Washington DC, enthusiasm was muted. (Michael Petrilli observed a bit later that a common response was to challenge the motives of voc ed advocates.  "Would you want your own child to do vocational education?  If not, why are you pushing others to do it?") 

But outside the Beltway, lots of folks were interested.  Bob and Ron were saying college is not for everyone.  Others were saying that quietly.  So they were glad some scholars had spoken up.  Bob ended up creating the Pathways to Prosperity Network which now works with states on this issue. 

My own thoughts on this topic are here.

1. Mostly I agree with (Sarah Carr).  College For All does not make sense as a policy objective, for many reasons.  

Bob Schwartz's paper, in my view, was right on target.  Moreover, I share the fear that in some cases, college is a bad economic bet.

Read by my blog called College: a Lifetime of Debt with Diminishing ROI.

And read this one, too.  College For All?  For Real?

Finally, Dai Ellis here: Rethinking the Charter Mission.

While I agree with her that College For All is not a smart state or national education policy, there's a very different question of whether College For All makes sense as the mission of a single school.  There I strongly believe yes.

In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they're sort of half-hearted about it.  Few alums actually graduate from college.  College rah-rah is absent.  But so is career rah-rah.  There is no rah-rah at those schools.  I'm not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.

2. Does a typical parent in an urban school district -- a single mom who is not a college grad, is poor, and is black or Hispanic -- want college for her kid?

In Boston, I think so.  I don't think college prep charter schools are "imperialist."  They're precisely what more parents want. 

3. ...There's a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.  

Boston's vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.  We'd love to send kids to good career and technical programs.  We actively encourage it among some of our alums.  But they're often hard to find. 

*

I ran into Andy Rotherham in the hall.  We talked about the challenges of ed policy (when we should have talked about the Red Sox offseason). 

One thing we mused about is that "everything works if and only if execution is really good."  Charters, pre-K, vocational, restorative justice, remedial math, tracking or detracking, small high schools, turnarounds, whatever.  The problem is, typically in K-12,  not good.  All these strategies require elite-caliber execution.  Elite. 

Anything less doesn't seem to work. 

It's why the tagline for this blog is:

Wondering what works, what doesn't, and what sort of does, but only if you do it a certain way (plus occasional basketball references and wedding announcements). 

There's not much in K-12 which actually helps kids with decent-but-not-elite execution.  And there's not an orientation in policy towards generating the capacity needed -- to assume almost nothing works unless you hit a really high bar.