Archive for the ‘pedagogy’ category

Engaged Learning

March 19, 2008

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

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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 🙂

Re: Chasing False Gods

February 19, 2008

Chris Lehmann over on the blog Practical Theory has a new post that fits perfectly with what I have been reading and blogging about here (see earlier posts) in my book club of one as I work through Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

Check it out. His challenge to us all is very important. Critical, I think. Easy – no! Media has this sexy, seductive element to it that blurs the line between deep learning and entertainment. Saavy educators are needed more than ever.

Also, see my last post on 20th century skills repackaged. It all fits together.

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.

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’.

Integrate or Integral

November 1, 2007

keyboard_book.jpgI recenlty read a great post by David on his blog and it struck me that in our efforts to help teachers see and discover the great learning potential in new technologies that we sometimes get frustrated with them for not seeing things our way… that integration is not good enough… that technology use must be integral to everything they teach. I totally agree with him that it should not be seen as an add-on and that really we should be learning specialists who understand the potential of technology rather than technology specialists who are helping teachers teach with it. However, sometimes I think we have been guilty of not understanding where teachers are in their pedagogical beliefs and have not brought those beliefs into the equation. What teachers believe about teaching and learning directly impacts how they will leverage new technologies. For example, does technology help facilitate collaboration or problem-solving? Does technology supply tools that help amplify thinking, spark creativity, or visualize ideas? Does technology empower students and facilitate self-directed learning or the pursuit of unique interests?

Or, in along more traditional lines: Does technology help me generate worksheets, create puzzles, assess quantitatively, present information, create displays, find resources for my lessons, communicate with parents…

We have to understand the pedagogical framework that teachers are working from rather than impose our ideas of how technology use should look if it is integral to learning. What kind of learning? I think that the real issue here that drives technology’s integral role is how we view learning. Because let’s face it – for some, technology is just a pain in the neck and they use it as if they were putting a square peg in a round hole. They use it to please their superiors. Or, they try their best to steer clear of it altogether. So, I think the work that still needs to be done is to help bring vision back to teachers who have lost it, to help teachers no longer excited about learning new things find that spark, to rekindle their desire to connect with students, to help teachers take risks and to make failure safe, to reward collaboration and innovativeness, to foster a community of practice… I think THIS is where technology becomes integral. Any less, and technology, at best, is integrated. At worst, tolerated.

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