Archive for the ‘classroom’ category

What Kids Do in Computer Labs…

March 11, 2008

Well, it goes like this: My son, who is in third grade, gets home and is telling me about his day. I know, he won’t ZZZ.jpgbe doing this much longer. He tells me that he had computer lab today. He tells me they worked on keyboarding skills. He tells me they work on keyboarding skills every time they go to the computer lab. He tells me it gets boring doing it for 30 minutes. He tells me that even if you finish the lesson early, you have to go back and do it again. He tells me that every 5 weeks they get free choice. This is his experience with computers at school.

What does this tell you?

Don’t Fall Off Your Chair!

February 25, 2008

chair.jpgOkay, this is just plain fun.An ex-teacher in the UK has invented an “untippable” chair for classroom use. The problem used to drive him crazy, as many teachers can identify with, I’m sure. The article reports that there are upwards of 7,000 pupils a year hospitalized in the UK as a result of chair-related accidents – of which 70% are related to rocking backwards in the chair.The “Max” chair cannot be rocked more than 5 cm off the ground. Here is a practical application of technology if I ever saw one. What a great physics/math lesson it would make, too!What is most interesting is reading all of the posted comments in response to the article. We have pro-rockers, anti-rockers, pro-safety, anti-coddlers, pro-fitness balls, anti-sedentary learning, pro-restrainters, pro-danger, pro-engaging teaching, “it never happened to me and I did it all through school!”, “rocking helps develop balance and muscle strength”, and the best of all, “Let the kids rock”.Who would have thought that opinions on this matter were so diverse and so passionate. And that’s my point. If we give folks the opportunity to express themselves in relevant ways, they will. As teachers, if we can combine relevancy with meaning-making (which is missing in this example, of course!), we have the workings of powerful learning. Ask yourself how relevant your lessons are to the lives and passions of your students. You might be surprised. Just don’t fall off your chair 🙂

Disturbed and Angry and Sickened

February 9, 2008

sad face.gifWhat a title, right? Well, I just went through all of those emotions when I read this February 10th article from the Washington Post titled, A School That’s Too High on Gizmos. What can I say… you have to read it to see if you experience the same emotions. In a nutshell, it describes the teachers’ and students’ experiences in a very high-tech school in Alexandria… and most of what is reported is not good. Imagine – a new building, state-of-the art, all of the technologies anyone could want (and it turns out more than most want), and teachers who are disillusioned, turned off, and frustrated. Students who are recognizing technology for technology’s sake. The term used is “administrative technolust” –

“a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them.”

Teachers being told that they cannot use more traditional technologies (i.e. overhead projectors, chalkboards…). Technical problems continually interrupting learning. The mourning of face2face socialization and increased depersonalization. I love this one quotation from a student who admits that his favorite teacher

“isn’t into all this computer stuff. All he uses is the board — the whole board. He’s lively, energetic, witty and really knows his math. He forces you to pay attention; you can’t drift off even if you want to.”

I love that. It brings a balance to the conversation about 21st century teaching – that good teaching must precede effective technology use.

Now, there are so many issues to address in all of this – technology before training, unsupported infrastructure, mandated teaching styles, mandated tools, lack of mentorship, technology for technology’s sake, technology as magic bullet, technology diversion, poor leadership, and more… I think this might be the first article that I have read that includes so many illustrations of poor technology implementation. It also brings some insights into the great conversations that happened over on Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant and Pete Reilly’s blog, Ed Tech Journeys, about whether technology should be mandated or not. And, in all fairness, it is one highly publicized article that I am sure does not capture the situation in a totally unbiased and objective manner.

Anyway, read it for yourself. How did it make you feel? Let me know.

Enough With the Silly Pencil Argument!

February 5, 2008

pencil.jpgOkay, I understand the basic premise of the pencil argument (and here). But, come on now… this is far from an equal analogy! Here is what Doug Johnson had to say about the potential risks that pencils bring into the classroom in the February 2006 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology. It was referenced in Wesley Freyer’s latest post over on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog.:

1. A student might use a pencil to poke out the eye of another student.
2. A student might write a dirty word or, worse yet, a threatening note to another student, with a pencil.
3. One student might have a mechanical pencil, making those with wooden ones feel bad.
4. The pencil might get stolen.
5. Pencils break and need repairing all the time.
6. Kids who have pencils might doodle instead of working on their assignments or listening to the teacher.

Now, again, I understand the rationale behind this argument, but let’s compare:

1. Only psychopathic students would gouge out another’s eye… with anything. However, teachers have been known to be violent pencil wielders. Imagine what they could be capable of with an iPod in their hands!

2. A written insult or profanity is seen only by the one who holds the written note. We all fully understand the far-reaching implications of digital bullying!

3. One simply cannot compare pencil-envy with things of high value that create classes of students and do create envy (high-fashion clothing, shoes, and yes… electronics!)

4. In fact, pencils do get stolen all the time. I have rarely seen a student fall to pieces over it. However, if it were a $250 pencil, I could see why that could happen.

5. Pencils break. So you sharpen them again. The “repair” is done in seconds. Electronics break and are repaired with greater cost, time, and learning interruption/disruption.

6. I would much rather have a student doodle with his or her pencil than be consumed with the vast array of on-line distraction. And, most other classmates don’t usually get distracted by one student’s doodling. Not so with a laptop or other electronic device.

So, if we are to present a compelling rationale for issues surrounding freedom to learn and teaching/learning innovation, we at least need to bring valid and sound arguments to the table. To do otherwise only serves to make light of real and pressing concerns of many stakeholders. If a pencil is the equivalent of any other learning device, then I say, let’s stick with the pencils. They are cheaper, easily replaceable, quite reliable, disposable, efficient, highly portable, facilitate collaboration and sharing of information, they have excellent battery life – heck, they don’t even have lead in them anymore, making them environmentally friendly to boot!

But, if there is a significant difference here (and I would agree that there is), then we had better not be making such silly comparisons. Folks might just want to settle for the pencil, then.

Note:
Freyer’s blog post is otherwise right on the mark.

Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World

January 29, 2008

(Continuing on with by book club of 1…)

Today, I read a new post by Will Richardson on the topic of Twitter and it resounded so strongly with me (you can read my comments there) because I had just finished reading this fifth chapter of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and found incredible parallels between the influence of the telegraph, photograph, and television to the newer forms of information technology in this last decade . Will is wrestling with the impact of Twitter on his world, and how folks are restricted to communicating in 140 characters or less and others following up to 600 or more tweeters out there. Wow – have we ever changed from information moving as fast as physical people could carry it to seconds after the “post” or “publish” command has been invoked. Postman introduces the idea that this has produced “context free” information which holds merit simply because it is novel, interesting, our curious, “elevating irrelevance to the status of news”. I don’t think I am alone in being annoyed with the state of news in the US these days. In the morning I get 5 minutes or less of shallow news bytes and then 55 more minutes of the best macaroni and cheese recipes, 5 tips to firmer thighs, and where in the world is Matt Lauer. There is now such an glut of irrelevant information out there that instead of finding productive ways of taking action locally in our own communities, we struggle to stay afloat in the endless sea of information that seems important, but so disconnected that in the end we can’t find ways to take action on any of it. The idea of neighborhood has been replaced with “global neighborhood” – one that Postman defines as “… a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

Although Postman’s thinking evolves into a criticism of the television world, I find meaningful connections to newer worlds as well. To quote Postman once again,

“Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation… Knowing the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, backgrounds, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing lots of things, not knowing about them.”

As a teacher, I am compelled to help my students make sense out of both the information at their fingertips as well as the impact that the information medium has on his or her understanding and view of the world. I am challenged in new ways to help my students use new information tools in powerful and meaningful ways that do not sacrifice depth and complexity for breadth and glitz. How are we making sense of our world with the presence of such tools and glut of information? Are we struggling just to RSS the headlines and keep up the Jonses… I mean the Twitters? Do we need to be up on every RSSd headline or blog post? Or, are we tackling meaningful projects that positively impact our own communities based on meaningful and powerful uses of information. Are we contributing at all, or have we become so consumed with feeding on information that we have forgotten about our real neighbors and communities? Do we now live so much in Facebook or MySpace that the idea of community service is almost crazy? I mean, I have followers… I have an obligation here to satisfy them and their desire to know what I am doing every moment of the day. (sorry… this is getting a tad sarcastic)

Wow… this is making me think about a great deal. I have no answers at this point as I struggle with all of this. But, I am struggling, reading, and reflecting…, and that is good. What do you think about all of this?

Thank You, Network!

January 12, 2008

I just want to stop and say thank you to all of you who blog about serious and relevant issues that we are all facing today in education. Over the past few days, I have been so drawn in by the many thought-provoking and intelligent narratives found in many edublogs that I routinely read and participate in.
In a recent post by Kelly Christopherson over on LeaderTalk, he shares his observation that many teachers who struggle with using new technologies to learn, collaborate, and teach are often those who have no support networks that challenge and inspire them. These are most likely the same teachers who struggle the most with change and the learning of any new things. They have often grown stale, fearful, and uninspired. He cites a few examples within his own network and writes that these networked folks are those who…

question and challenge, helping to stretch the discussion, helping us to reflect on our ideas and thoughts while providing some great tools and insights into using web2.0 tools in teaching, these relationships help us connect and develop, grow and learn, keep our perspective and motivate us. These relationships have become a large part of how we are growing and developing our teaching and understanding. These are the relationships that those teachers not engaged DO NOT have.

I have heard Will Richardson and others also attest to the importance of their networks in their own personal learning and professional development and I can certainly attest to the value of these new networks that are independent of time and space. So, here’s to all of you who have exponentially expanded my learning network. I look forward to many more inspirational, challenging, controversial, confrontative, serious, humorous, light, passionate, and heartfelt posts and conversations.

Who Needs More Help?

January 4, 2008

This morning I read an article from the HeraldNews online titled, Future of education on display at school. It writes about how a laptop program has ‘transformed’ teaching and learning at this parochial girls’ school. It describes how students are benefitting from greater on-demand access to information, are taking notes digitally from text projected on a screen, how teachers are able to cover curriculum more quickly, and how math and science instruction is benefitting from 3-D modeling and virtual manipulation. The report also discusses how student engagement and enthusiasm have increased and does not deny the presence of a few distractions due to the new tool. As I read the article I acknowledged that these are all typical observations from a budding laptop program and that nothing really revolutionary in terms of learning was going on. However, students and teachers alike go through stages of adoption (at different speeds, no doubt) and one cannot expect radical transformations in learning overnight. But, the real kicker though was that there was the conception that having laptops and being able to access content online was the “future of education”. That’s where I let out a frustrated sigh. It is still about being good information consumers (important nonetheless). The article concludes with this quotation from an individual not connected with the school:

“The goal is for students to really recognize that you’re in an ongoing conversation with people all over the world … and then to contribute their own ideas to that conversation.”

Yes, Bravo! But, this was not happening anywhere in the school as described in this article. My question is, who needs more assistance in recognizing the power of conversation, creation and contribution of knowledge here? The students or the teachers? How can the students realize this potential when the teachers do not? Professional development really needs to move in this direction, beyond the mechanical to the powerful. Schools need to embrace powerful and meaningful learning through technology and FREE teachers from so many obstacles that continue to fetter them. Only then will we experience the ‘future of education’. For now, let’s be careful not to call digital 18th century modes of learning the ‘future of education’.