Archive for the ‘failure’ 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?


20th Century Skills Repackaged

February 19, 2008

In a recent eSchoolNews article, it is quoted as saying, “A majority of U.S voters believe schools are not preparing students to compete in the new global economy… the skills students need to succeed in the workplace of today are notably different from what they needed 20 years ago.”

It is also quoted as saying,

“Eighty-eight percent of voters say they believe schools can, and should, incorporate 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and self-direction, and computer and technology skills into the curriculum.”

I don’t disagree at all, but this rhetoric is getting annoying. Since when are critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, and self-direction only 21st century skills? This has been our whole problem – that in the 21st century, we are still struggling to include 20th century learning skills. Of course, this information/2.0 age demands more of us all in these regards and increases the urgency of such pedagogical shifts. But, I think we are where we are due to our complacency prior to the 21st century. Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner, von Glasersfeld, Jonassen, Papert, Montessori, and a number of others have made sound pitches to this end over the past century. Why has so little change happened in classrooms across America? Yes, it is great that these principles are being brought into the conversation again, but it didn’t really happen then. Why will it happen now? Historically, the change pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, yet little substantive change has ever been achieved. The article attributes this renewed interest and dissatisfaction with economic anxiety (fear). They mention China. India… Sound like Sputnik to you?

The article concludes with this quotation:

“This is a moment in both the economy and the upcoming election where Americans are looking for hope,” said Garin. By focusing on education and the teaching of 21st-century skills to the nation’s students, citizens and their elected officials can “help lead the country to a promising future.”

Hope. I hope things change. I have been hoping for a long time. Hope is good. But not enough. Change is happening, but in a haphazard and inconsistent manner. Of course, we must respond to economic, cultural, and social influences, but let’s not be fooled. That which is being called for now is nothing new. The tools to achieve it are new. There are new possibilities and mediums – but there will always be such. The urgency is now greater, for sure, but the pedagogical foundations remain. Will we finally begin to embrace them on a national level? Will we follow history and once again allow the pendulum to swing to the extreme? Is a balanced approach still out of our reach?

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.

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.