Archive for the ‘Learning’ category

Personal Learning Networks

March 20, 2008

Know anyone like this?

Engaged Learning

March 19, 2008

Funny how it is so much more interesting, exciting, invigorating, meaningful, memorable, personal, enjoyable, powerful, …. when we participate.


Photo Credits

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 🙂

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.

New Podcast Content in iTunes U

February 6, 2008

PBS and others are now present in iTunes U. There are some great resources here that are now itunesu1.jpgaccessible freely via iTunes. These are wonderful resources that have relevance in the classroom, but would also make great out-of-class assignments where relevant. Of course, since they can by synced with your portable media devices, that means that students do not need to be tethered to a computer to listen to or watch this media. One can access the following resources there: history, art, music, science, museum artifacts, scientific research, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and PBS content.

PBS, in particular, has a great deal of valuable content that can be used to supplement the curriculum and instruction.itunesu2.jpg The screenshot below shows content from just one of 3 pages of PBS resources.

With so many great resources being made available, it makes the integration of podcasts and portable media players even more of a no-brainer. Of course, all of this content can be accessed on a computer as well. Depending on the goal and age, one medium may make more sense than another. And, with so many filtering obstacles in schools, this also makes it easier to bring content into the classroom that is not accessible from the school network. Content can be played right off of the teacher’s laptop or directly off of an iPod. Not so long ago, it was fairly difficult to bring this type of content into the classroom. You had to either record it at home and bring it in on VHS, or ask the library media specialist to record it for you (but that had all kinds of requirements and limitations…). Oh, and you had to (1) know what shows were to be aired, and (2) remember to record them (if you had that channel at home). Now, it is just a matter of looking through a list of already-aired shows and picking them to download and watch – whenever and wherever you want. So, no excuses now… (well, I’m sure you could still come up with some…).

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.

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