Tag Archives: testing

Skateboarding as a Model for Student-Centered Learning

That's me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

That’s me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

If you haven’t yet watched Rodney Mullen’s TEDx talk, stop what you are doing (including reading this blog) for 18 minutes, and check it out below.

Ok, now we can continue. I hope you liked the video. If you are  a non-skater, I must emphasize that this is the man who has, maybe alongside Tony Hawk and Danny Way, invented most of the tricks and their key variations which constitute modern day skating.

When I was skating, virtually every day from early 80s to early 90s, these guys as well as Natas Kaupas, Mark Gonzales, Ray Barbee, Matt Hensley, Guy Mariano, and Jason Lee were my heroes. Many of them have since stretched their creativity beyond skating. Jason Lee has turned a Hollywood actor, Matt Hensley plays accordion in a popular punk band Flogging Molly.

And you must’ve heard of Tony Hawk who has built a hugely successful video game franchise on skating. Tony still rides, by the way, he just tried out whether he can still pull off a 900 on a vert ramp at the age of 48. Turns out he can:

So, skateboarding aligns with innovating, as you saw from Mullen’s TED talk above. I’d like to continue with this, drawing connections between skating and education, in particular student-centered learning.

Central concepts in learning are motivation, practicing/drilling, testing, and assessment. You have to be motivated to learn in the first place, then you have to practice, practice, practice, and finally test & assess whether you learned or not. And then iterate or move on.

In skateboarding, the motivating aspects are very intrinsic. You want to show yourself and your pals that you can land a trick. That’s it basically. It most likely hurts a lot before you can master it, but finally it is there. Then you can improve the style, create some variations, etc. But the bottom line is that there are very few external motivators, especially if you are a non-pro skater who doesn’t make a living from winning competitions and scoring sponsorship deals. The same applies to student-centered learning. The student really wants to learn something and this calls for…

Practice/drilling. Mullen didn’t mention it in the video but the saying goes that “innovating is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. This means that the heureka moment is only but a small part of coming up with the finalized innovation. For skateboarding, I would say that the ratio is even sadder, something like “0,1% inspiration and 99,9% perspiration”. It is easy to imagine all sorts of tricks, but really landing them is something else. I still feel sorry for my shins, although it has been 20+ years since they had several daily confrontations with plywood.

Assessment. In skating, most if not all assessment is self-assessment. Sometimes your skating buddies can watch you try something and then give hints: “you’re going too slow for the rail”, “put your front ankle like this”, “kick with back foot for the late shove-it”. These hints can help, but in the end it is up to you to implement them. While airbourne, you are supposed to do several things with your body simultaneously in order to successfully land a flip or a 360 or an ollie impossible. Only you can teach your muscles, hence self-assessment.

Finally, testing. In skateboarding, testing plays little role, if you don’t count the myriad of micro-tests you perform to yourself to try out whether your little plan to complete a trick works out or not. There are no standardized tests. Even competitions have no formal expectations of types of tricks that you have to perform in order to score well. This is what drastically separates skateboarding competitions e.g. from figure skating competitions.

Skateboarding will most likely enter the Olympics at the Tokyo 2020 games. This is one step towards the standardized testing model of skateboarding, of which I am not a big fan. And I am not alone. I am not one of those who deny skating of being a sport or a hobby, claiming that it is a way of life. However, I definitely think that you take something very essential away from it if you start to evaluate tricks according to some predefined and explicitly stated template.

By the way, I bought a deck last summer, to my calculations 21 years after I last owned one. I’ll leave you with your’s truly performing a 360 no-comply in summer 2015:








Get Children to Improve Rather than to Prove

Yesterday’s Campus Seminar* in Helsinki had a delightful set of speakers, ranging from priests to photographers, from hockey coaches to celebrity vloggers. And everything in between.

The afternoon was kicked off with a great presentation by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson on how we should give feedback to students and what the feedback should be about. The bottom line:

This is an excellent piece of advice yet we act against it every day. I know I do, at least. When my 7 year old daughter perfects a cartwheel I say that she is the best gymnast. Or when she reads a text chapter fine I tell her that she is so good in reading. What I should say, instead, is that she had practiced well, done nice progress from last time, spent her efforts wisely, etc.

Whenever possible, we should concentrate on the process and actions rather than on person’s characteristics. On a related note, we should also focus on improving skills at the expense of proving them. Improving is more about the process, proving about the end result. As Heidi puts it, instead of being good, try to get better.

This brings me to one of my favorite topics, testing. High stakes standardized tests are typically organized solely for checking whether the students have learned the things they were supposed to learn. Whether they can prove that they have learned them.

I am not against testing, not at all. I just prefer the Finnish way of embedding tests in everyday teaching and learning activities rather than having them as monsters looming somewhere at the end of the semester.

When tests are conducted often and as a natural part of lessons, they are actually more about improving than proving. By the way, I was happy to notice this morning that MasteryConnect had just closed a serious funding round. Let’s hope they can bring more ad hoc and less high stakes testing also to the US.

This blog entry was only about the first 15 minutes of yesterday’s event. The whole thing lasted for four hours, so there was a lot more going on. The organizers have to do their absolute best to top this lineup in Warsaw in November!

* My employer Sanoma Pro was a sponsor in this event.


Mashing Up @Edsurge 2014 Outlooks

In my previous post I declared video as the edtech phenomenon of 2013, based on investments & media coverage in the New York Times. What’s going to happen in 2014, then? Since we don’t yet have investment rounds, acquisitions, and other hard facts available, we have to settle on expert opinions.


I took a look at the predictions on the EdSurge blog by various educational experts and tried to extract some common themes. I found the following topics getting the most attention:

  • Better accessability and “online everywhere”. Emphasizing these basic things shows that schools are still in a very heterogeneous and unequal position. Some of them have all the gadgets and fast infra, while (many) others suffer from poor access and the lack of good client devices. This has to be taken into account when designing digital content and educating educators.
  • Better testing & assessment. More emphasis has to be put on why and how the students should be tested. Teaching students just to pass tests makes no sense. Instead, the tests themselves should be vital part of the teaching process. This also calls for new and innovative ways of assessing.
  • Personalized learning. Online tools for identifying personalized learning needs and recommending suitable content to facilitate these needs are just that: tools. Nothing more, nothing less. They are tools for the teacher to better manage her class or directly for the (self-)students to obtain suitable exercises and other materials. In no way should they threaten the position of teachers.
  • Better professional development. The educators should have more choice and a wider variety of techniques & methods for keeping them up-to-date.

In addition to these top topics, also increase in investments to edtech, consumerization, big data, less technology for technology’s sake, teaching to code tools, and device management got more than one mention by the experts.

The experts on the EdSurge blog were divided into two major categories. First one was investors and the second educators & K-12 admins. These two groups were highlighting different topics, which is only natural. The first batch looks at the world from business perspective, whereas the latter is interested in how things function in the daily life of teaching & learning.

Of the four main topics listed above, both groups were emphasizing access and online, educators & admins were more into T&A and professional development, and personalized learning was solely in the investors’ agenda.

Flickr image CC credits: Ben le Photographe