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The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality)
Jon Henschen, intellectualtakeout.org, August 16, 2018
Throughout grade school and high school, I was fortunate to participate in quality music programs. Our high school had a top Illinois state jazz band; I also participated in symphonic band, which gave me a greater appreciation for classical music. It wasn’t enough to just read music. You would need to sight read, meaning you are given a difficult composition to play cold, without any prior practice. Sight reading would quickly reveal how fine-tuned playing “chops” really were. In college I continued in a jazz band and also took a music theory class. The experience gave me the ability to visualize music (If you play by ear only, you will never have that same depth of understanding music construct.)
Both jazz and classical art forms require not only music literacy, but for the musician to be at the top of their game in technical proficiency, tonal quality and creativity in the case of the jazz idiom. Jazz masters like John Coltrane would practice six to nine hours a day, often cutting his practice only because his inner lower lip would be bleeding from the friction caused by his mouth piece against his gums and teeth.
His ability to compose and create new styles and directions for jazz was legendary. With few exceptions such as Wes Montgomery or Chet Baker, if you couldn’t read music, you couldn’t play jazz. In the case of classical music, if you can’t read music you can’t play in an orchestra or symphonic band. Over the last 20 years, musical foundations like reading and composing music are disappearing with the percentage of people that can read music notation proficiently down to 11 percent, according to some surveys.
Two primary sources for learning to read music are school programs and at home piano lessons. Public school music programs have been in decline since the 1980’s, often with school administrations blaming budget cuts or needing to spend money on competing extracurricular programs. Prior to the 1980’s, it was common for homes to have a piano with children taking piano lessons.
Even home architecture incorporated what was referred to as a “piano window” in the living room which was positioned above an upright piano to help illuminate the music. Stores dedicated to selling pianos are dwindling across the country as fewer people take up the instrument. In 1909, piano sales were at their peak when more than 364,500 were sold, but sales have plunged to between 30,000 and 40,000 annually in the US. Demand for youth sports competes with music studies, but also, fewer parents are requiring youngsters to take lessons as part of their upbringing.
Besides the decline of music literacy and participation, there has also been a decline in the quality of music which has been proven scientifically by Joan Serra, a postdoctoral scholar at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona. Joan and his colleagues looked at 500,000 pieces of music between 1955-2010, running songs through a complex set of algorithms examining three aspects of those songs:
1. Timbre- sound color, texture and tone quality
2. Pitch- harmonic content of the piece, including its chords, melody, and tonal arrangements
3. Loudness- volume variance adding richness and depth
The results of the study revealed that timbral variety went down over time, meaning songs are becoming more homogeneous. Translation: most pop music now sounds the same. Timbral quality peaked in the 60’s and has since dropped steadily with less diversity of instruments and recording techniques.
Today’s pop music is largely the same with a combination of keyboard, drum machine and computer software greatly diminishing the creativity and originality.
Pitch has also decreased, with the number of chords and different melodies declining. Pitch content has also decreased, with the number of chords and different melodies declining as musicians today are less adventurous in moving from one chord or note to another, opting for well-trod paths by their predecessors.
Loudness was found to have increased by about one decibel every eight years. Music loudness has been manipulated by the use of compression. Compression boosts the volume of the quietest parts of the song so they match the loudest parts, reducing dynamic range. With everything now loud, it gives music a muddled sound, as everything has less punch and vibrancy due to compression.
In an interview, Billy Joel was asked what has made him a standout. He responded his ability to read and compose music made him unique in the music industry, which as he explained, was troubling for the industry when being musically literate makes you stand out. An astonishing amount of today’s popular music is written by two people: Lukasz Gottwald of the United States and Max Martin from Sweden, who are both responsible for dozens of songs in the top 100 charts. You can credit Max and Dr. Luke for most the hits of these stars:
Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, Jessie J., KE$HA, Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5, Taio Cruz, Ellie Goulding, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, Nick Minaj, Celine Dion, Bon Jovi, Usher, Adam Lambert, Justin Bieber, Domino, Pink, Pitbull, One Direction, Flo Rida, Paris Hilton, The Veronicas, R. Kelly, Zebrahead
With only two people writing much of what we hear, is it any wonder music sounds the same, using the same hooks, riffs and electric drum effects?
Lyric Intelligence was also studied by Joan Serra over the last 10 years using several metrics such as “Flesch Kincaid Readability Index,” which reflects how difficult a piece of text is to understand and the quality of the writing. Results showed lyric intelligence has dropped by a full grade with lyrics getting shorter, tending to repeat the same words more often.
Artists that write the entirety of their own songs are very rare today. When artists like Taylor Swift claim they write their own music, it is partially true, insofar as she writes her own lyrics about her latest boyfriend breakup, but she cannot read music and lacks the ability to compose what she plays. (Don’t attack me Tay-Tay Fans!)
Music electronics are another aspect of musical decline as the many untalented people we hear on the radio can’t live without autotune. Autotune artificially stretches or slurs sounds in order to get it closer to center pitch. Many of today’s pop musicians and rappers could not survive without autotune, which has become a sort of musical training wheels. But unlike a five-year-old riding a bike, they never take the training wheels off to mature into a better musician. Dare I even bring up the subject of U2s guitarist “The Edge” who has popularized rhythmic digital delays synchronized to the tempo of the music? You could easily argue he’s more an accomplished sound engineer than a talented guitarist.
Today’s music is designed to sell, not inspire. Today’s artist is often more concerned with producing something familiar to mass audience, increasing the likelihood of commercial success (this is encouraged by music industry execs, who are notoriously risk-averse).
In the mid-1970’s, most American high schools had a choir, orchestra, symphonic band, jazz band, and music appreciation classes. Many of today’s schools limit you to a music appreciation class because it is the cheapest option. D.A. Russell wrote in the Huffington Post in an article titled, “Cancelling High School Elective, Arts and Music—So Many Reasons—So Many Lies” that music, arts and electives teachers have to face the constant threat of eliminating their courses entirely. The worst part is knowing that cancellation is almost always based on two deliberate falsehoods peddled by school administrators: 1) Cancellation is a funding issue (the big lie); 2) music and the arts are too expensive (the little lie).
The truth: Elective class periods have been usurped by standardized test prep. Administrators focus primarily on protecting their positions and the school’s status by concentrating curricula on passing the tests, rather than by helping teachers be freed up from micromanaging mandates so those same teachers can teach again in their classrooms, making test prep classes unnecessary.
What can be done? First, musical literacy should be taught in our nation’s school systems. In addition, parents should encourage their children to play an instrument because it has been proven to help in brain synapse connections, learning discipline, work ethic, and working within a team. While contact sports like football are proven brain damagers, music participation is a brain enhancer.
For teachers in Massachusetts: Special Education MCAS accommodations
And Supplemental Reference Sheets, for use by students with disabilities.
The approved graphic organizers, checklists, and supplemental reference sheets listed in the table below are for use by students with disabilities who have this MCAS accommodation (A9 from the Accessibility and Accommodations Manual for the 2018–2019 MCAS Tests/Retests) listed in their IEPs or 504 plans.
The Department encourages schools to familiarize students with these tools, since students should be comfortable using their graphic organizer or reference sheet during MCAS testing.
Only the approved organizers and supplemental reference sheets listed below may be used for next-generation ELA and Mathematics MCAS testing and text or graphics may not be added. It is permissible to remove selected text or graphics.
The sample Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) reference sheets listed below may be used as is, or may be used with selected text and graphics removed; however, additional Department approval is required if any text or graphics are added, or if a different reference sheet is created.
|Approved Supplemental Mathematics
|MCAS Grades 3 and 4: Short Response Questions||MCAS Grade 3||MCAS Grade 5|
|MCAS Grades 3-4: Essay||MCAS Grade 4||MCAS Grade 8|
|MCAS Grades 3-4: Story||MCAS Grade 5||MCAS High School Biology|
|MCAS Grades 5: Essay||MCAS Grade 4||MCAS High School Physics|
|MCAS Grades 5: Narrative||MCAS Grade 5|
|MCAS Grades 6-8: Essay||MCAS Grade 6|
|MCAS Grades 6-8: Narrative||MCAS Grade 7|
|MCAS Grade 10: Essay||MCAS Grade 8|
|MCAS Grade 10: Narrative||MCAS Grade 10|
Note: If you have a problem printing a graphic organizer please call Student Assessment at 781-338-3625.
MCAS Test accommodations
Here are both the standard and non-standard MCAS test accommodations. The IEP team should work with the parent to set up accommodations that best fits the student’s needs.
MCAS is designed to measure a student’s knowledge of key concepts and skills outlined in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
A small number of students with the most significant disabilities who are unable to take the standard MCAS tests even with accommodations participate in the MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt).
MCAS-Alt consists of a portfolio of specific materials collected annually by the teacher and student.
Here are some samples of alternate assessments, and how teachers would grade them:
Evidence for the portfolio may include work samples, instructional data, videotapes, and other supporting information.
- Commissioner’s Memo: Information and Resources for MCAS-Alt and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
- Learn about the MCAS-Alt. View an overview and frequently asked questions.
- Access resources for conducting MCAS-Alt and on upcoming training sessions, including MCAS-Alt Newsletters, the Resource Guide, Educator’s Manual, MCAS-Alt Forms and Graphs, and registration information.
- See sample portfolio strands from students’ MCAS-Alt portfolios.
- Find information on scoring portfolios and view reports of results. Also view information on the MCAS-Alt score appeals process.
Notes for teachers who are covering the age of the Enlightenment
For now, this introduction has been loosely adapted from the Wikipedia article.
International historians often say that the Enlightenment began in the 1620s, with the start of the scientific revolution.
Earlier philosophers whose work influenced the Enlightenment included Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Spinoza.
Many of the Enlightenment thinkers are known as Les philosophes -French writers and thinkers – who – circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffee houses, and in printed books and pamphlets.
The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church. These ideas paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Major figures of the Enlightenment included Beccaria, Diderot, Hume, Kant, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Voltaire.
Some European rulers, including Catherine II of Russia, Joseph II of Austria and Frederick II of Prussia, tried to apply Enlightenment thought on religious and political tolerance, “enlightened absolutism.”
Benjamin Franklin visited Europe and contributed to the scientific and political debates there; he brought these ideas back to Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson incorporated Enlightenment philosophy into the Declaration of Independence (1776). James Madison, incorporated these ideas in the United States Constitution during its framing in 1787
Secondary section (to be re-titled)
In his famous 1784 essay “What Is Enlightenment?”, Immanuel Kant defined it as follows:
“Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Have courage to use your own intelligence!”
By mid-Century the pinnacle of purely Enlightenment thinking was being reached with Voltaire.
Born Francois Marie Arouet in 1694, he was exiled to England between 1726 and 1729, and there he studied Locke, Newton, and the English Monarchy.
Voltaire’s ethos was: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – that is, if people believed in what is unreasonable, they will do what is unreasonable.
The Enlightenment sought reform of Monarchy by laws which were in the best interest of the subjects, and the “enlightened” ordering of society. In the 1750s there would be attempts in England, Austria, Prussia and France to “rationalize” the Monarchical system and its laws. When this failed to end wars, there was an increasing drive for revolution or dramatic alteration. The Enlightenment found its way to the heart of the American Declaration of Independence, and the Jacobin program of the French Revolution, as well as the American Constitution of 1787.
Many values were common to enlightenment thinkers, including:
✔ Nations exist to protect the rights of the individual, instead of the other way around.
✔ Each individual should be afforded dignity, and should be allowed to live one’s life with the maximum amount of personal freedom.
✔ Some form of Democracy is the best form of government.
✔ All of humanity, all races, nationalities and religions, are of equal worth and value.
✔ People have a right to free speech and expression, the right to free association, the right to hold to any – or no – religion; the right to elect their own leaders.
✔ The scientific method is our only ally in helping us discern fact from fiction.
✔Science, properly used, is a positive force for the good of all humanity.
✔ Classical religious dogma and mystical experiences are inferior to logic and philosophy.
✔ Theism – the belief in a God that wants morality – was held by most Enlightenment thinkers to be essential for a person to have good moral character.
✔ Deism – to be added
✔ Some classical religious dogma has been harmful, causing crusades, Jihads, holy wars, or denial of human rights to various classes of people.
Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework
High School World History Content Standards
Topic 6: Philosophies of government and society Supporting question: How did philosophies of government shape the everyday lives of people? 34. Identify the origins and the ideals of the European Enlightenment, such as happiness, reason, progress, liberty, and natural rights, and how intellectuals of the movement (e.g., Denis Diderot, Emmanuel Kant, John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, Cesare Beccaria, Voltaire, or social satirists such as Molière and William Hogarth) exemplified these ideals in their work and challenged existing political, economic, social, and religious structures.
New York State Grades 9-12 Social Studies Framework
9.9 TRANSFORMATION OF WESTERN EUROPE AND RUSSIA:
9.9d The development of the Scientific Revolution challenged traditional authorities and beliefs. Students will examine the Scientific Revolution, including the influence of Galileo and Newton.
9.9e The Enlightenment challenged views of political authority and how power and authority were conceptualized.
10.2: ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND NATIONALISM: The Enlightenment called into question traditional beliefs and inspired widespread political, economic, and social change. This intellectual movement was used to challenge political authorities in Europe and colonial rule in the Americas. These ideals inspired political and social movements.
10.2a Enlightenment thinkers developed political philosophies based on natural laws, which included the concepts of social contract, consent of the governed, and the rights of citizens.
10.2b Individuals used Enlightenment ideals to challenge traditional beliefs and secure people’s rights in reform movements, such as women’s rights and abolition; some leaders may be considered enlightened despots.
10.2c Individuals and groups drew upon principles of the Enlightenment to spread rebellions and call for revolutions in France and the Americas.
History–Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools
7.11 Students analyze political and economic change in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (the Age of Exploration, the Enlightenment, and the Age of Reason).
1. Know the great voyages of discovery, the locations of the routes, and the influence of cartography in the development of a new European worldview.
2. Discuss the exchanges of plants, animals, technology, culture, and ideas among Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the
major economic and social effects on each continent.
3. Examine the origins of modern capitalism; the influence of mercantilism and cottage industry; the elements and importance of a market economy in seventeenth-century Europe; the changing international trading and marketing patterns, including their locations on a world map; and the influence of explorers and map makers.
4. Explain how the main ideas of the Enlightenment can be traced back to such movements as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution and to the Greeks, Romans, and Christianity.
5. Describe how democratic thought and institutions were influenced by Enlightenment thinkers (e.g., John Locke, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, American founders).
6. Discuss how the principles in the Magna Carta were embodied in such documents as the English Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence.
The 18th century marked the beginning of an intense period of revolution and rebellion against existing governments, and the establishment of new nation-states around the world.
I. The rise and diffusion of Enlightenment thought that questioned established traditions in all areas of life often preceded the revolutions and rebellions against existing governments.
On his blog, Rough Type, author Nicholas Carr writes:
With lots of kids heading to school this week, an old question comes back to the fore: Can thinking be separated from knowing?
Many people, and not a few educators, believe that the answer is yes. Schools, they suggest, should focus on developing students’ “critical thinking skills” rather than on helping them beef up their memories with facts and other knowledge about the world. With the Internet, they point out, facts are always within easy reach. Why bother to make the effort to cram stuff into your own long-term memory when there’s such a capacious store of external, or “transactive,” memory to draw on? A kid can google the facts she needs, plug them into those well-honed “critical thinking skills,” and – voila! – brilliance ensues.
That sounds good, but it’s wrong. The idea that thinking and knowing can be separated is a fallacy, as the University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham explains in his book Why Don’t Students Like School.
This excerpt from Willingham’s book seems timely:
I defined thinking as combining information in new ways. The information can come from long-term memory — facts you’ve memorized — or from the environment. In today’s world, is there a reason to memorize anything? You can find any factual information you need in seconds via the Internet. Then too, things change so quickly that half of the information you commit to memory will be out of date in five years — or so the argument goes. Perhaps instead of learning facts, it’s better to practice critical thinking, to have students work at evaluating all that information available on the Internet, rather than trying to commit some small part of it to memory.
This argument is false. Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).
It’s hard for many people to conceive of thinking processes as intertwined with knowledge. Most people believe that thinking processes are akin to those of a calculator. A calculator has available a set of procedures (addition, multiplication, and so on) that can manipulate numbers, and those procedures can be applied to any set of numbers. The data (the numbers) and the operations that manipulate the data are separate. Thus, if you learn a new thinking operation (for example, how to critically analyze historical documents), it seems like that operation should be applicable to all historical documents, just as a fancier calculator that computes sines can do so for all numbers.
But the human mind does not work that way. When we learn to think critically about, say, the start of the Second World War, it does not mean that we can think critically about a chess game or about the current situation in the Middle East or even about the start of the American Revolutionary War. Critical thinking processes are tied to the background knowledge. The conclusion from this work in cognitive science is straightforward: we must ensure that students acquire background knowledge with practicing critical thinking skills.
Willingham goes on the explain that once a student has mastered a subject — once she’s become an expert — her mind will become fine-tuned to her field of expertise and she’ll be able to fluently combine transactive memory with biological memory.
But that takes years of study and practice. During the K – 12 years, developing a solid store of knowledge is essential to learning how to think. There’s still no substitute for a well-furnished mind.
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§107. Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phone records or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use, the factors to be considered shall include: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (added pub. l 94-553, Title I, 101, Oct 19, 1976, 90 Stat 2546)
Bloom’s taxonomy is a widely accepted model about how students learn, created in the 1950s by Benjamin Samuel Bloom, an American educational psychologist.
It is a set of hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. They cover learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains.
Bloom edited the first volume of the standard text, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956. A second edition arrived in 1964, and a revised version in 2001.
In the original version of the taxonomy, the cognitive domain is broken into six levels of objectives: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation. In the 2001 revised edition of Bloom’s taxonomy, the levels are changed to: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.
This above introduction was excerpted and adapted from Wikipedia by RK.
“Bloom’s taxonomy.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Sep. 2018.
Despite Bloom’s intentions for this to be used in college and graduate schools, it is now frequently used in American kindergarten through high school curriculum learning objectives, assessments and activities. Bloom himself was skeptical of this.
Despite popular belief, the taxonomy had no scientific basis. Richard Morshead (1965) pointed out on the publication of the second volume that the classification was not a properly constructed taxonomy: it lacked a systemic rationale of construction.
Morshead, Richard W. (1965). “On Taxonomy of educational objectives Handbook II: Affective domain”. Studies in Philosophy and Education. 4 (1)
This criticism was acknowledged in 2001 when a revision was made to create a taxonomy on more systematic lines. Nonetheless, there is skepticism that the hierarchy indicated is adequate. Some teachers do see the three lowest levels as hierarchically ordered, but view the higher levels as parallel.
Bloom himself was aware that the distinction between categories in some ways is arbitrary. Any task involving thinking entails multiple mental processes.
The most common criticism, perhaps most important to hear today, is that curriculum designers implicitly – and often explicitly – mistakenly dismiss the lowest levels of the pyramid as unworthy of teaching. Common Core skills-based curricular and professional development drill into teachers the idea that we shouldn’t be teaching students “facts”; rather, we should encourage students to ask questions and investigate, and learn the material, organically, for themselves.
What this doctrine misses is the fact that today’s knowledge in math, science history, etc., is literally the product of thousands of thinkers and writers, and millions of man-hours of thinking, research, and peer-review. Constructing a substantial knowledge of algebra could take a student 20 or 30 years – or they could be taught supposedly “lower level facts” about the rules of algebra.
As you read the modern day evaluations of Bloom’s taxonomy, below, note the consensus: The learning of lower level skills is necessary to enable the building of higher level skills. And New information requires prior basic information
Thinking well requires knowing facts
Psychologist Daniel Willingham explains in his book Why Don’t Students Like School:
[Modern teachers have been told that] perhaps instead of learning facts, it’s better to practice critical thinking, to have students work at evaluating all that information available on the Internet, rather than trying to commit some small part of it to memory.
This argument is false. Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment)…. Critical thinking processes are tied to the background knowledge. The conclusion from this work in cognitive science is straightforward: we must ensure that students acquire background knowledge with practicing critical thinking skills.
Education Week, by Ron Berger
The problem is that both versions present a false vision of learning. Learning is not a hierarchy or a linear process. This graphic gives the mistaken impression that these cognitive processes are discrete, that it’s possible to perform one of these skills separately from others. It also gives the mistaken impression that some of these skills are more difficult and more important than others. It can blind us to the integrated process that actually takes place in students’ minds as they learn.
My critique of this framework is not intended to blame anyone. I don’t assume that Benjamin Bloom and his team, or the group who revised his pyramid, necessarily intended for us to see these skills as discrete or ranked in importance. I also know that thoughtful educators use this framework to excellent ends–to emphasize that curriculum and instruction must focus in a balanced way on the full range of skills, for all students from all backgrounds. But my experience suggests that what most of us take away from this pyramid is the idea that these skills are discrete and hierarchical. That misconception undermines our understanding of teaching and learning, and our work with students.
Here’s What’s Wrong With Bloom’s Taxonomy: A Deeper Learning Perspective, By Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer at EL Education.
Bloom’s Taxonomy – That Pyramid is a Problem
by Doug Lemov
A couple of useful notes though. 1) Bloom’s is a ‘framework.’ This is to say it an idea—one that’s compelling in many ways perhaps but not based on data or cognitive science, say. In fact it was developed pretty much before there was such a thing as cognitive science. So it’s almost assuredly got some value to it and it’s almost assuredly gotten some things wrong. 2) I was surprised, happy and concerned (all at once) to read the italicized phrase: with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.
Ironically this is exactly the opposite of what people interpret Bloom’s to be saying. Generally when teachers talk about “Bloom’s taxonomy,” they talk with disdain about “lower level” questions. They believe, perhaps because of the pyramid image which puts knowledge at the bottom, that knowledge-based questions, especially via recall and retrieval practice, are the least productive thing they could be doing in class. No one wants to be the rube at the bottom of the pyramid.
But this, interestingly is not what Bloom’s argued—at least according to Vanderbilt’s description. Saying knowledge questions are low value and that knowledge is the necessary precondition for deep thinking are very different things. More importantly believing that knowledge questions—even mere recall of facts—are low value doesn’t jibe with the overwhelming consensus of cognitive science, summarized here by Daniel Willingham, who writes,
Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment)
In other words there are two parts to the equation. You not only have to teach a lot of facts to allow students to think deeply but you have to reinforce knowledge enough to install it in long-term memory or you can’t do any of the activities at the top of the pyramid. Or more precisely you can do them but they are going to be all but worthless. Knowledge reinforced by recall and retrieval practice, is the precondition.
In the spirit of the FDA which recently revised its omnipresent food pyramid to address misconceptions caused by the diagram created to represent it, I’m going to propose a revision to the Bloom ‘pyramid’ so the graphic is far more representative. I’m calling it Bloom’s Delivery Service. In it, knowledge is not at the bottom of a pyramid but is the fuel that allows the engine of thinking to run. If I had more time for graphic design, I might even turn the pyramid on its side. You probably want to do quite a bit of analysis and synthesis but only if you’ve got comprehension solidly in the bag. In other words you kind of need all of the pieces.
– Doug Lemov
Seyyed Mohammad Ali Soozandehfar and Mohammad Reza Adeli
American Research Journal of English and Literature (ARJEL), Volume 2, 2016
… In 1999, Dr. Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom’s, and his colleagues published an updated version of Bloom’s Taxonomy that takes into account a broader range of factors that have an impact on teaching and learning. This revised taxonomy attempts to correct some of the problems with the original taxonomy. Unlike the 1956 version, the revised taxonomy differentiates between “knowing what,” the content of thinking, and
“knowing how,” the procedures used in solving problems.
… Today’s world is a different place, however, than the one Bloom’s Taxonomy reflected in 1956. Educators have learned a great deal more about how students learn and teachers teach and now recognize that teaching and learning encompasses more than just thinking. It also involves the feelings and beliefs of students and teachers as well as the social and cultural environment of the classroom.
Anderson (2000) argues that nearly all complex learning activities require the use of several different cognitive skills. Like any theoretical model, Bloom’s Taxonomy has its strengths and weaknesses. Its greatest strength is that it has taken the very important topic of thinking and placed a structure around it that is usable by practitioners. Those teachers who keep a list of question prompts relating to the various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy undoubtedly do a better job of encouraging higher-order thinking in their students than those who have no such tool.
On the other hand, as anyone who has worked with a group of educators to classify a group of questions and learning activities according to the Taxonomy can attest, there is little consensus about what seemingly self-evident terms like “analysis,” or “evaluation” mean. In addition, so many worthwhile activities, such as authentic problems and projects, cannot be mapped to the Taxonomy, and trying to do that would diminish their potential as learning opportunities. In the following sections, this study presents several in-depth criticisms:
…. it has been maintained that Bloom’s Taxonomy is more often than not interpreted incorrectly. Booker (2007) believes that “Bloom’s Taxonomy has been used to devalue basic skills education and has promoted “higher order thinking” at its expense” (2007, p.248). In other words, lower order skills such as knowledge and comprehension are being considered as less critical or invaluable skills.
Being referred to as lower order skills does not make knowledge or comprehension any less important, rather they are arguably the most important cognitive skills because knowledge of and comprehension of a subject is vital in advancing up the levels of the taxonomy. Therefore, in line with Booker’s conclusion, the Taxonomy is being improperly used. Bloom never stated that any of his cognitive levels were less important, just that they followed a hierarchical structure. Booker (2007) points out that even Bloom himself recognized that the application of the taxonomy was unexpectedly happening at the K-12 level and much less so at the university/college level.
The Misdirection of American Education
Abstract: Plato wrote that higher order thinking could not start until the student had mastered conventional wisdom. The American educational establishment has turned Plato on his head with the help of a dubious approach to teaching developed by one Benjamin Bloom. Bloom’s taxonomy was intended for higher education, but its misappropriation has resulted in a serious distortion of the purpose of the K–12 years. Michael Booker attributes the inability of American children to compete internationally to a great extent to our reliance on Bloom in expecting critical and advanced thinking from kids who have been trained to regard facts and substantive knowledge as unimportant.
Bloom’s Taxonomy has become influential to the point of dogma in American Colleges of Education.
Bloom’s Taxonomy has been used to devalue basic skills education and haspromoted “higher order thinking”at its expense.
Shortchanging basic skills education has resulted in producing students who misunderstand true higher-order thinking and who are not equipped for advanced education.
…. Soon after it was published, a body of research began to build around theTaxonomy. In 1970, Cox and Wildemann collected an index of the existing research into Bloom’s Taxonomy.12According to their study, 118 research projects of various sorts had been conducted in the previous decade and a half. A review of their data, however, shows that most of the research lacked experimental results that might either confirm or invalidate it. The results noted are not reassuring. Initial studies showed that individuals skilled in the Taxonomy frequently could not agree on the classification of test items or objectives.
… This adds up to an extraordinary misreading of the Taxonomy. Standards intended for college students get pushed down to the K–12 system. Instead of teaching those K–12 students hierarchically, the foundation of the structure is ignored. The push is made to the highest levels of the Taxonomy, especially level six, Evaluation. Since Handbook 1 is currently out of print (a measure, perhaps, of how carefully it is studied in the colleges of education), I will quote its caveats about Evaluation.
For the most part, the evaluations customarily made by an individual are quick decisions not preceded by very careful consideration of the various aspects of the object, idea or activity being judged. These might be termed opinions rather than judgments.…For purposes of classification, only those evaluations which are or can be made with distinct criteria in mind are considered.
Despite these warnings, typical Evaluation questions take the form of “What do you think about x?”and “Do you agree with x?” These questions are often accompanied by praise for what education literature misidentifies as the “SocraticMethod.” The result of this strategy is to occupy class time with vacuous opining.
When I speak with my fellow community college instructors, we rarely complain about student ’lack of advanced intellectual skills. Our chief source of frustration is that they haven’t mastered the basics needed to succeed in college-level work. Since I teach philosophy, I don’t expect my students to come to class knowing any content about my subject area.
Still, it would be lovely if they exited high school with some knowledge of world history, science, English, and geography. A large cohort (much to my frustration) doesn’t know how many grams are in a kilogram or when to use an apostrophe. I have a friend, Dr. Lawrence Barker, who once taught statistics at a state university. Each quarter he quizzed his incoming statistics students about basic math. The majority, he learned, couldn’t determine the square root of one without access to a calculator. He left teaching and is now happily employed by theCenters for Disease Control.
A Roof without Walls: Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Misdirection of American Education, Michael Booker, Academic Questions 20(4):347-355 · December 2007
Alternative models of learning
Rex Heer, at the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching created this model. He writes:
Among other modifications, Anderson and Krathwohl’s (2001) revision of the original Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956) redefines the cognitive domain as the intersection of the Cognitive Process Dimension and the Knowledge Dimension. This document offers a three-dimensional representation of the revised taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Although the Cognitive Process and Knowledge dimensions are represented as hierarchical steps, the distinctions between categories are not always clear-cut. For example, all procedural knowledge is not necessarily more abstract than all conceptual knowledge; and an objective that involves analyzing or evaluating may require thinking skills that are no less complex than one that involves creating. It is generally understood, nonetheless, that lower order thinking skills are subsumed by, and provide the foundation for higher order thinking skills.
The Knowledge Dimension classifies four types of knowledge that learners may be expected to acquire or construct— ranging from concrete to abstract.
The Cognitive Process Dimension represents a continuum of increasing cognitive complexity—from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills. Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) identify nineteen specific cognitive processes that further
clarify the scope of the six categories.
Based on this, Rex Heer develops this three dimensional model. Again, please note that – as Bloom himself always intended – remembering facts (misunderstood as the “lowest” part of the method) – is actually the most important part: remembering facts is the base on which everything else depends. One can’t engage in higher level critical thinking skills on a subject without first knowing the content of the subject.
Does anyone use board games/strategy games to teach science? I don’t mean “Let’s make a game out of…” , nor “Let’s take a boardgame and apply it to science” – I’m thinking about strategic games (generally sold in game stores that cater to adults) where real science is part of the gameplay by design.
What type of games are we talking about?
We’re not talking about abstract strategy games, like Chess, Go, Pente, Checkers or othello. Nor we are talking about typical American board games, which usually are based on direct conflict between players, and have a significant degree of luck. Instead, we’re focusing on a category sometimes called Eurogames, or German-style board games.
They are a class of tabletop games that generally have indirect player interaction, and colorful physical components, which emphasize strategy while downplaying luck and conflict. They usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.
There are several games worth looking into.
Biology & Ecology games
Evolution, by North Star Games.
This game lets you create and adapt their own species in a dynamic ecosystem with hungry predators and limited resources. Traits like Hard Shell and Horns will protect you from Carnivores, while a Long Neck will help you get food that others cannot reach. With over 12,000 different species to create, every game becomes a different adventure. So gather your friends around the table and see who will best adapt their species to eat, multiply and thrive! Contents: 129 Trait Cards (17 Carnivore Trait Cards, 7 of each other Trait Card), 20 Species Boards, 40 Wooden Markers, 144 Food Tokens, 12 Ten Value Food Tokens, 1 Watering Hole Board, etc.
Dominant species by GMT games Can be used to teach evolution by natural selection.
Recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an Ice Age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing Earth. Each player assumes the role of one of six major Animal groups—Mammal, Reptile, Bird, Amphibian, Arachnid or Insect. Each begins the game in a state of natural balance with regards to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest.” Through wily Action Pawn placement, players will strive to become Dominant on as many different Terrain tiles as possible… Players will be aided in these endeavors via Growth, Migration and Domination actions, among others. All of this eventually leads to the end game – the final ascent of the Ice Age – where the player with the most Victory Points will have his Animal crowned the Dominant Species.
Cytosis: A Cell Biology, Board Game
Players take turns placing workers on available organelles within a human cell in order to collect resources (such as Carbohydrates or ATP!) or take actions (such as purchasing Cell Component cards or translating mRNA into Proteins.) Players use their resources to build Enzymes, Hormones, and Hormone Receptors and also to help detoxify the cell – all of which score health points. The player with the most health points at the end of the game wins!
Linkage: A DNA Card Game by Genius Games
In Linkage, each player links RNA cards side by side to build their own RNA strand, attempting to copy the shared DNA Template. Players must choose between BUILDING on their own RNA strand, REPAIRING their RNA strand, or Mutating an opposing strand. Players earn points based upon how accurately their RNA strands match the DNA template.
Peptide: A Protein Building Card Game, by Genius Games
Photosynthesis, by blue orange
Biology: Diseases, Viruses
Pathogenesis is a deck building game in which players take the role of bacterial pathogens attacking the human body. The game was developed in partnership with scientific illustrator somersault1824. Based on real science and the mechanics were created to mimic how real biology works.
Pandemic, by Z-Man Games
Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out. Players must work together playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. For example the Operation Specialist can build research stations which are needed to find cures for the diseases. The Scientist needs only 4 cards of a particular disease to cure it instead of the normal 5. But the diseases are out breaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures. A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.
Virulence An Infectious Card Game by Genius Games
Antimatter matters, an elbowfish game. Teaches modern physics
Explore the strange and wonderful world of quantum physics, where a handful of tiny particles interact to form the atoms that make up ourselves and everything we experience in the world around us. As the lead scientist on an orbiting space laboratory, you are in charge of humanity’s first attempt to construct ordinary matter from individually captured elementary particles. Encounter hazards like quantum entanglement, antimatter collisions and solar flares messing up your instruments, while facing the actions of other player-scientists racing toward the same goal. Will you be the first to collect the right particles and successfully build an atom? The game balances strategic choices with interactions with other players and the unpredictable nature of the universe. Simple rules-10 minutes to learn. Visual design uses double-coding to make it accessible to gamers with color-blindness and to those with limited vision or fine-motor skill.
Tesla vs. Edison, by Artana
You control a start-up company in the early days of the U.S. electric industry. In the beginning you only have your lead inventor, some shares of preferred stock, and some money. Over the course of the game you will be hiring other famous technicians and business people to work for you. Each luminary or inventor has their own special abilities. There are four focuses in the game: claiming electric projects on the map, advancing up a tech tree, investing in public relations to improve public opinion of your company or the technologies it uses, and buying and selling stock on a dynamic market.
Physics Laws: Discovering STEM – Inertia, Friction, Circular Motion and Energy Conservation Building Set (118 Piece) – by Engino – any reviews?
Chemistry Fluxx (Looney Labs)
Learn how elements combine and interact as you try to match the current goal and win. Students and adults can both play and remain competitive. Elements are listed with their Atomic number and their bohr Atomic model, and are color coded by Type: alkaline earth metals, transition metals, noble gases, etc.
Covalence: A Molecule Building Game, by Genius Games
In covalence, players work together to accurately build a number of secret Organic molecules. One player has knowledge of the molecules, while all other players must deduce what these secret molecules are, based upon a limited number of clues given to them by the knower.
Compounded Board Game, by Greater Than Games
Compounded is a game about building chemical compounds through careful management of elements, a fair bit of social play and trading, and just a bit ok luck. In Compounded, players take on the roles of lab managers, hastily competing to complete the most compounds before they are completed by others – or destroyed in an explosion.
Ion: A Compound Building Card Game by Genius Games
Valence Plus, by Science Ninjas
Build elite teams out of elements from the periodic table to find molecules and win the game! But be careful – opponents might attack you with acid squads, reducing your bases to worthless salt and water! It’s all here – molecule formation, acids and bases, chemical reactions, even advanced concepts like secondary oxidation states.
History of science & the scientific method
Progress: Evolution of Technology, NSKN Games.
Each player takes his civilization from early antiquity and learns various technologies, moving progressively to the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, and Modern Times and ending with today’s Internet or Social Welfare. The 210 technology cards in the game are divided into three ages (Ancient, Middle Ages, Industrial) and three types (Military, Science and Culture). With every advancement on a path, you gain easier access to its more advanced technologies and you’ll end up opening the door to the next age.
The New Science, Conquistador games
In The New Science you play as Isaac Newton, Galileo or one of three other great minds from the scientific revolution in 17th century Europe. You are in a tense intellectual race with your opponents, attempting to publish your remarkable scientific discoveries first in order to gain prestige, be seen as the finest mind of your era, and consequently be appointed the first President of the Royal Society. You achieve this by first researching, then experimenting on, and finally publishing new discoveries. But you need to carefully decide what and when to publish: while the only way to win is publishing to gain prestige, all other scientists will read your books and gain the same knowledge, costing you a key advantage. You’ve precious little energy to put into the many groundbreaking scientific disciplines. Your efforts will be further impacted by critical happenings in the world around you, requiring savvy as well as smarts. The New Science is a fast-playing worker placement and area control game for 2-5 players.
Astronomy & Space games
Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration, by Xtronaut Enterprises
Captures the real-world science, technology, and challenges of planetary exploration. Easy to learn, gives 2 – 4 players ages 7 and up the chance to develop space missions, build authentic rocket systems, and explore the solar system. Designed by NASA scientists. Exposes players to space science concepts related to planning and undertaking a real space mission.
Keep in mind that most people need at least an entire class period of playing through the game in order to fully grasp the concepts and strategy. Using games would thus be most productive if they were scheduled as part of the curriculum, with several sequential days set aside for playing the game/class experience.
At the beginning of each class, one should carefully explain the objectives:
- Yes, having fun is one of the objectives!
- But we’re also doing this to learn grade-level content knowledge and skills.
- The knowledge and skills that we’re getting actually addresses Next Generation Science standards for content and skills; and Common Core Curriculum standards for contents and skills.
Sample learning standards
Antimatter matters, Elbowfish Games
Massachusetts Introductory Physics
HS-PS1-8. Develop a model to illustrate the energy released or absorbed during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.
HS-PS3-2. Develop and use a model to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as either motions of particles and objects or energy stored in fields.
PS1.A Structure of matter: The sub-atomic structural model and interactions between electric charges at the atomic scale can be used to explain the structure and interactions of matter.
Progression of Crosscutting Concepts Across the Grades: Systems and System Models – , students can investigate or analyze a system by defining its boundaries and initial conditions, as well as its inputs and outputs. They can use models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) to simulate the flow of energy, matter, and interactions within and between systems at different scales. They can also use models and simulations to predict the behavior of a system, and recognize that these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in the models.
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.
Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.
Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
It’s easy to teach physics in a wordy and complicated way – but taking a concept and breaking it down into simple steps, and presenting ideas in a way that are easily comprehensible to the eager student, is more challenging.
Yet that is what Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman excelled at. The same skills that made one a good teacher also caused one to more fully understand the topic him/herself. This was Feynman’s basic method of learning.
1) Develop an array of hands-on labs that allow one to study basic phenomenon.
2) Each day go over several problems in class. They need to see a master teacher take what appears to be a complex word problem, and turn it into equations.
3.) Insure that students take good notes. One way of doing this is having the occasional surprise graded notebook check (say, twice per month.)
4) Each week assign homework. Each day randomly call a few students to put one of their solutions on the board. Recall that the goal is not to get the correct numerical answer. (That sometime can come by luck or cheating.) Focus on the derivation. Does the student understand which basic principles are involved?
5) Keep track of strengths and weaknesses: Is there a weakness in algebra, trigonometry, or geometry? When you see a pattern emerge, assign problem sets that require mastering the weak area – not to punish them, but to build skills. Start with a few very easy problems, and slowly build in complexity. Let them work in groups if you like.
6) Don’t drown yourself in paperwork: Don’t grade every problem, from every student, every day. You could easily work 24 hours a day and still have more work to do. Only collect & grade some percent of the homework.
7) Focus on simple drawings – or for classes that uses programming to simulate physics phenomenon – simple animations. Are the students capable of sketching free-body diagrams that strip away extraneous info? Can they diagram out all the forces on an object?
8) Give frequent assessments that are easy to grade.
9) Get books such as TIPERS for Physics, or Ranking Task Exercises in Physics. They are diagnostic tools to check for misconceptions.. Call publishers for free sample textbooks and resources. For a textbook I happen to like Giancoli Physics; their teacher solution manual is very well thought out.