Archive for the ‘teaching’ 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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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?

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.

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

Tooble: Great New Free Tool

January 21, 2008

I recently learned of a new tool called Tooble that was introduced at Macworld Expo 2008. What is amazing is that this tool has been created by 2 high school teenagers! It is a free download and once it is installed, it works with YouTube and first downloads then converts your selected videos to .MP4 format. It will even automatically add them to your iTunes library if you wish and compatible for your iPod. For me, this is great because I never like to rely solely on a network connection when I want to show videos to my students in class or in a presentation elsewhere. I have been using Zamzar to convert such flash videos, but this tool makes it even easier. Here’s how it works (the functions correspond to the image below).

1. You can enter a URL of a specific video

2. You can search for a video at YouTube

3. You can search by YouTube’s common filters as well as your own favorites

4. Select the video(s) you want converted and saved locally as .mp4 files

5. Click “Download” and the magic begins.

It could not have been easier! For now it is only Mac compatible, but one of the high school students, Alex Catullo, is working on the Windows version. Thanks to their computer science teacher for encouraging powerful uses of technology beyond shallow mind maps, dull PowerPoints, and pretty page layouts.

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Ch. 4 – The Typographic Mind

January 20, 2008

(Continuing with book club idea…)

In this chapter Postman deepens his argument by describing the impact of print information on 17th and 18th century minds. He describes the disciplined minds of the time as being able to sit and attend to 4-7 hour lectures – with relish. In addition, the people of the time were also able to both speak in and comprehend complex sentence structures. Postman contrasts this with what he calls, “people of television culture” who need “plain language” and who would struggle greatly to comprehend the complex text and oratories of the 18th century. I think in our time of information glut that we are in more need than ever for people who can do what Walter Ong called the “analytic management of knowledge.” Postman describes this well with the following words:

“To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weight ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another.”

I would have to agree that as technological progress has advanced, the ability of our students (who become the mature citizenry) to process complex information both in print and aurally has declined a great deal. Postman contrasts those individuals from the pulpit, from the courtroom, and from politics with the same today and comments that those today could not hold a candle to the typographic and oratorial skills of a few centuries ago.

Postman also observes that “the printed word had a monopoly on both attention and intellect, there being no other means, besides the oral tradition, to have access to public knowledge.” He begins to build his case that a major shift in thinking power has happened as we have moved from a word-centered culture to an image-centered one and a century he describes as the “Age of Show Business”.

Personally, this argument resounds true with me, as I see experience the numbing power of today’s media blitz on a daily basis. Even in schools we struggle to achieve such a basic level of performance and ability in all our students. We have become obsessed with assessment and accountability because of such low levels. We have all looked at the statistics regarding the way our youth spend their time “hooked up” to all varieties of media. Yet, I think we can all agree that most of that time spent is shallow and trivial. Why are we all so enamored by their proclivity to be social and remix content in the virtual sense? Even at the college level where I teach I experience the inability of students to think deeply, speak cogently, write powerfully, and read complex text. I have recognized that in myself at times and that is why I pick up books like this one to read. It is good mental discipline that is all too easily lost. I think such challenges as found in this book need to spur us all on to make sure that new technologies and forms of communication and discourse are used in powerful rather than trivial ways. Sometimes I think we are all too excited to see that students are blogging, creating wikis, developing digital stories, producing podcasts, developing semantic maps or webs – without examining the substance of their narratives, analyses, criticisms, and arguments. I also feel that we have become distracted by trying to get teachers to USE technology instead of teach powerfully with the help of new technologies. The “we have to start somewhere” argument really does not work. We need to start with powerful teaching and then harness all powerful tools at our disposal. I think if more teachers would spend time reading books like this new one called The Strategic Teacher we would see a much higher quality of teaching and student learning than what results from much of the focus being put on technology. That being said, I am one of the biggest techno-geeks out there and strong proponent of new technologies for teaching and learning. I guess I am being convicted as I read this book as well 🙂 I fear, as Postman does, that we are letting technology dictate what is most important more than we might like to admit at times.

Enough said… Until next time