Archive for October 2007

More School=Dumber?

October 19, 2007

I just finished listening to a 20/20 episode titled “Stupid in America” on the current state of schooling in America. Although I was not surprised by much of what I heard, one statement floored me… that the longer kids stay in school, the ‘dumber’ they become when compared to other countries and their students’ school performance. Wow!

I must admit, I take John Stossel’s terminology “most” with a grain of salt, as he describes some of the schools that exemplify poor quality. Are there bad teachers? Sure. Are their bad schools? Yes. Are there bored.jpgbad administrators? Of course. Bad policies? Many. But, I have had the blessing of being part of so many wonderful schools with caring teachers, administrators, parents, para-professionals… I think what IS true is that there is a definite divide in American schools – one directly linked to socio-economic status. Top performing schools are often so because of the entire social umbrella (village) surrounding those schools, not only because of great teachers alone. Actually, sometimes it can be in spite of lesser teacher quality.

One Belgian school administrator is quoted as saying, “You have to be innovative all the time and look for new means of thinking…” because if they don’t succeed, they are run out of business (school choice is big there)- and that American schools continue to leave children behind on a daily basis in spite of NCLB. She was pretty much mocking that policy. What strikes me as most important here is the initiative to constantly innovate. So many schools and teachers are stuck in 19th century models of schooling that are just not working. Does that mean just give everyone laptops and high-speed wireless? Not at all. There is nothing worse than an ineffective teacher with the addition of technology in his or her hands. But, the potential of bringing about new life and excellence into into our current practices by discussing and examining the benefits of integrating new tools and opportunities is great! It is when we stop trying that things go sour.

Certainly, these issues are complex. I don’t want to trivialize or oversimplify some of the issues facing teachers, administrators, and partents on a daily basis. Teaching in some districts can like going into a war zone. But, teachers need to be well-trained (a continual process) to meet the needs of the audience that they will be trying to teach/reach, not the audience that they remember as part of their own K-12 experience. Administrators need to embrace innovation and out-of-box thinking. Nothing less than excellence should be tolerated. The positive should be put on a pedestal. The negative squelched. Do teachers’ unions hold too much power as the video clearly suggests? Perhaps. Should the business of school run more competitively to ensure high quality schools succeed while poor quality schools shut down? Maybe. Should all education stakeholders embrace every moment and pledge to touch as many children as possible and skillfully engage them in powerful, meaningful learning?

No doubt.

You can comment on the video if you have a Viddler account by viewing the episode here.

speaker_20.gifListen to this entry as an mp3 file.

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The Digital Gym

October 12, 2007

Wow… even physical education programs are seeking ways to integrate technologies in the battle against increasing obesity in children. Heart monitors and analysis software were at one point cutting edge. Now, we have the emergence of video games… in the gym!! How so? A recent article by the Orlando Sentinel describes how students are decreasingly motivated by traditional games and

exergaming.jpgexercises, but the convergence of video gaming and dance has developed, resulting in a new movement called “Exergaming” – students dancing to the music and the video on the screen, trying to follow the correct foot motions on a sensor foot pad. There are a variety of levels to complete, with increasing difficulty. If it is helping a inactive generation get active, then I guess it is a good thing. But, what if we think a little more deeply. Is there just no way to help today’s youth appreciate the simple things in life… to find satisfaction in personal achievement… to set a non-digital goal and strive for it? Is this type of initiative simply feeding a digital-only generation? Will this type of initiative get kids “hooked on an active lifestyle” as the article quotes, or will it further entice kids to a digital lifestyle? Will the next generation no longer play soccer on the field and opt for a virtual soccer game instead? Will they no longer explore the beauty of nature in person but rather through a 3-D headset and a host of other sensors? What is it with a good (not highly competitive) team sports game that kids are not interested? Is that worth investigating?

I am no luddite. Rather, I am a huge tech geek at heart. But at what point to we stop embracing a digital lifestyle in efforts to bring balance to life? Change will happen regardless of what we think – and change can be very good, of course. But are we guilty at times of helping to accellerate change at an unhealthy rate and in unhealthy directions in the name of a highly digital economy and society? Of course, I am sure no P.E. program is advocating a 100% digital curriculum…I hope. But if they could, would they? Should they? Am I just way off in left field here? Are we really still in the “dark ages”, as Steve Sanders, director of the University of South Florida’s school of physical education and exercise science, is quoted as saying here? Should we be in even more of a hurry to digitize life and leave traditional ways of existing, knowing, understanding, finding beauty and satisfaction, … behind? Am I just having a bout of nostalgia here today?

Leave the Laptop at Home?

October 5, 2007

Taking NotesHere is yet more news report of frustrated professors having a difficult time figuring out what to do when technology enters the classroom. Often, the ‘solution’ is to ban them from the classroom, as some professors at this particular university are doing. Other institutions have done the same thing. I struggle with this as well, as I teach college students, often in a computer lab full of computers. We talk about the arrangement and type of computers condusive to a collaborative community in the classrom. I like to be able to see everyone’s computer screen rather than have rows of monitors that serve as walls between me and the students. It just makes things easier for me. It also makes things easier for the students, who are able to share with their peers more easily and are able to group in flexible ways in the classroom. Laptops make this even easier to achieve. However, when desks are in rows and students are all facing the lecturer who is lecturing… and laptop screens are up, fingers are busy, and no eye contact is being made with the lecturer, I do think problems begin to emerge. Let’s be real here… there are so many distractions sitting on one’s desk with a laptop… IMing, emailing, shopping, browsing, games,…. If I was a bored student sitting in a boring lecture, then why not?

Eureka!

The proportion of distracted students drops off significantly when there is a challenging and engaging dialog going on as part of the lecture… when students are more than just scribes. The few that choose to tune out for whatever reason should experience fairly immediate natural reprecussions – bad grades. But, this is not a fair analysis when one is a lecturer in a hall of 100-200 students. Then what? Is it time to rethink this particular model of instruction? What drives it anyway? Is it economics and the dollar, or is it sound pedagogy? Why is it that somehow we can leave sound padagogy behind in higher education because ‘it has always been done that way’ or “I did just fine in my class of 150 students.” or “It separates those who can and those who can’t.”, or “It teaches discipline and memorization of your content.”, or is it some combination of all of the above? I have been thinking about this for some time now. Do we just accept that some institutions of higher education are businesses… Learning factories? Will students begin looking for other alternatives in the near future? And, if class size is not the issue here and laptops are not welcome in smaller classes, then what is the issue – really? If a lecturer wants a quality class discussion, free of clackity-clack on the keyboard, why not just say, “Close your lids.” Any thoughts?