Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Connected Learning

One significant takeaway from the graphic above is that the best learning comes from "actively producing, creating, experimenting, and designing." This is a lesson that can be useful not just with technology, but with normal everyday learning or teaching within the classroom. We as teachers should be promoting projects that make students want to learn, or at the very least find a way to utilize students' higher order thinking abilities. Not every lesson can be fun, but it can be made interesting if you can help students find and hone their creative outlets. Creativity and experimentation breeds better learners.

Google Forms Test

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In times of change, learners inherit the Earth...

Will Richardson: "Do we really want our kids being prepared for their futures
by a system that hasn't fundamentally changed in 125 years?"

The above quote is a fair summation of Will Richardson's TED talk regarding the United States' public school model. Within his presentation, Richardson lambastes the current standardized-testing system. The government, be it at the local, state, or federal level, have looked to make schools "better," which Richardson has aptly decoded as "raising test scores." As an alternative, Richardson has proposed a "different" paradigm, one that utilizes current and future technology, a world where we are instantly connected to "2 billion teachers and the sum of human knowledge," ergo schools are no longer the de facto institution where students learn. Richardson continues that schools are not about test preparation, but life preparation, and that schools should serve as the primary conduit into a student's burgeoning curiosity and passions. 

It is very hard to disagree with any of this. It is obvious that schools are not providing the necessary life preparation for its students. Schools, teachers, and parents should be focused on good kids, not good test-takers, yet the focus is solely on whether every Tom, Dick, and Harry can pass his MCAS, SAT, and/or ACT. Because of this, we are snuffing out any creativity or outside-the-box, critical thinking skills that are imperative for "life prep." Teachers are being held hostage by the pressures of teaching to the test that they can no longer adequately teach.

Richardson also mentions the Common Core movement that is just now taking root. Richardson remarks that the Common Core has everyone "learning the same thing... kinda this one-size-fits-all curriculum, and that will probably lead to a national assessment that will make it really easy for us to make sure the kids in Louisiana are achieving at the same rate as the kids in Massachusetts." While I understand the point Richardson is trying to make (outside classroom factors that inhibit learning), I do not agree with this at all. To me, this sounds like Richardson is in favor of watering down the standards by state, a notion that should not be promoted. The sound of a national assessment does not sound appealing at all, but to chalk up the socioeconomic deficiencies by state as the reason for a student's or school's failure is ridiculous. We need to do whatever necessary to get students to reach the standards we have set out.

Another issue I had with Richardson's presentation is the lack of alternatives for standardized testing. I had to go to his website (http://weblogg-ed.com/2011/tedxnyed-talk/#comment-88248) to find his endorsement of "performance, artifacts, oral/written defense, [or] art," yet he undercuts his own point by mentioning that the "problem is they all take more time and expense to do well." Schools receive their funding from the government. The government wants to see a return on its investment, therefore standardized testing has been the "best" barometer. I agree with and understand Richardson's point, yet the likelihood of it happening any time soon makes it difficult to support. Furthermore, test-taking is an important skill to learn. Most professionals (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.) have to take tests. Rather than simply label test-taking the enemy, perhaps a balance of Richardson's alternatives and the current model would work best.

Ultimately schools will have to make a change. Teachers will have to embrace some, if not all, forms of technology. This is not a bad thing. Yet in a perfect world, standardized testing would be de-emphasized, and teachers focus solely on not just making students learn the material, but breed creativity and higher order thinking skills, and even inspire students to find their respective passions. Richardson's sentiment is easy to cheer, but challenging to hope for coming to fruition.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Enthusiasts vs. Skeptics: A Chapter 3 Reflection

After reading chapter 2 in Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, I had a lot of doubts regarding how effective various technologies could be used within the classroom setting. Some of it sounds ideal and useful, while others sound a bit more Pollyanna and unfeasible, particularly those that weigh heavily on school budgets. Having read chapter 3, "The Technology Skeptic's Argument," I definitely feel that I'm more on the side of the Skeptics', but not to the point of being considered a Luddite.

We live in an age of pre-planned obsolescence. Every piece of technology inevitably reaches a point of expiration, as companies prepare to create the new "latest and greatest" while already in the process of releasing their latest products. By no means am I against this; rather, it is more a point on how glacial some (read: most/all) school systems react toward any potential changes or movements. Lee Shulman mentions the "pedagogical content knowledge" that is fiercely protected and cherished by veteran teachers (35), which may be a combination of teachers either being unable or unwilling to learn every new technology that is introduced within the school. The reality is that most teachers are set in their ways, for better or worse. Some teachers do not need technology and can still be great teachers, and some teachers can be great with technology and terrible teachers.

Another huge obstacle to overcome is standardized testing. As written in chapter 3, "the contemporary demand for standardized curriculum and assessment in K-12 education makes adoption of new instructional directions based on information technologies even more unlikely" (37). I'm sure most of us (and most teachers) would be ecstatic if MCAS and other standardized testing were eliminated, but that is not happening anytime soon, especially when it can be used as a means of victory by politicians (http://news.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/20220918deval_hails_mcas_results/).  Furthermore, the reliance on technology for written assignments has been proven to be a significant issue; "Michael Russell and Walter Haney have shown that writing on computers actually leads to decreasing scores on pencil-and-paper writing tests, even when student writing improves as tested on computers" (37). Until standardized testing either goes away or is changed so that students can type, this is a serious issue that needs to be properly addressed. And as an aspiring English teacher, there are many benefits to pen-and-paper writing (drafting, outlining, pre-writing) that are usually ignored by those who begin with the computer.

However, the most convincing argument posited by the Skeptics regards classroom management. "When students are working on computers, particularly when they are working in groups, there tends to be a lot of interaction and noise with students sharing ideas and helping one another" (39-40). Teachers need to be respected, and they need to have the complete attention of not just one student, but every student for proper learning. The Internet makes that nigh impossible; I am writing this blog post with multiple other tabs up, whether it's rewatching "Open Gangnam Style" or preparing for Week 3 of fantasy football. If the technology were in place where schools could disable the Internet while students work, I may be convinced. However, most schools are running an outdated version of Windows, and tech-savvy students know how to work around whatever restrictions the school has in place.

This may sound like I am completely against the idea of technology in schools. This could not be further from the truth. At one point in chapter 3, it is written that "these incompatibilities make it very unlikely that technology will have a large impact on schools in the foreseeable future" (43), which is just plain wrong. It's a matter of the technology (and the accompanying educational movements) being properly refined and changed so that it is easy to learn for students and teachers, and available to as many school districts as possible. I am definitely open to changing my mind on the issue at hand. Two people who are way, way, way smarter than I, Cathleen Norris and Elliot Soloway, advocate the benefits of mobile technology in the video below. A few years prior, they were skeptics, cited for arguing that "for technology to make real inroads in instruction, the student to computer ratio in schools has to be 1:1" (37). The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model they encourage is promising; hopefully the price on tablets continues to drop.





Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Skeptic's Viewpoint

Having read the various positions of the technology enthusiasts within Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, I am slowly warming up to some of their stances. However, there are several views that still sound overly idealistic and unfeasible. I think the notion of all students inevitably being on an IEP is highly unlikely. The idea of a couple thousand kids in a given high school with their own plans, restrictions and limitations seems like an impossibility, especially with the Common Core just now being established within certain school systems. This could potentially water down standards to the point that students only need to know the basics. The fact is that a majority of students in a given grade or class tend to be at the same level of learning, so to tease them with technology as another way to learn is disingenuous, especially when the technology is not completely there yet.

In my own (albeit extremely limited) teaching experience, I am an aide to a student with Asperger's syndrome. He is on an IEP, and deservedly so. There are other students in his classes, however, who are just completely uninterested in a given lesson; in most cases, it is a matter of motivation. When a teacher spends the first 20+ minutes of a lesson taking attendance, or spends an entire lesson passing out one worksheet, going over it, then passing out another worksheet (and giving that as homework), I can't really blame the students.

In short, I am still skeptical.