November 16, 2006

Images of the Possible - Geometer Sketch Pad

I am not a math person, and so I was not excited about using the Geometer Sketch Pad program. My partners and I laughed about our skills and tackled what we thought would be the easiest assignment LittleOnes. We were successful and progressed to the fourth grade levels. Some of the concepts that were covered even at the second grade level were far beyond what my current students know and can do, and certainly beyond what I could have done at the elementary levels. I took geometry in high school and we were remembering the difficulty of measuring angles with a protractor. This program gives kids the ability to look at the principles and the functions, without being encumbered with the slow, cumbersome and inaccurate tools we used. We all liked the instant ability to see that no matter what the angles were, the total of the degrees stayed the same. How long would that one principle have taken us to discover in the old way of doing things. I can visualize that it could create some problems for the teacher. The quicker students would be done with the assigned tasks and would move on to play with the program. It was even a temptation for us, and I am sure that it would be for students too. As for challenges for the student (and to some degree for the teacher too) it offers a temptation to use the calculator to do some of the tasks that we did ourselves. Measuring lines and angles and doing the math all have value too. Not everything should be that easy, so there would have to be some balance between learning the basic skills and then letting the calculator do the work you already know how to do, instead of leaning on the calculator to do the things you DON'T know how to do. Once the basics are mastered, this program would allow even very young students to move through geometry very quickly, and thus cover much more ground in a single year than we would ever have imagined. We all laughed when Joan suggested that perhaps this would have changed our career trajectories, but after playing with this, this idea doesn't sound all that far fetched.

Google Earth

I hade used Google Earth before we used it in class only because it came loaded on our new Mac. I was impressed with how many other things could be done with it, things that I had never even considered. I enjoyed having a "pro" walk us through it and explain some of the features that had escaped me on my solo wanderings through the program. I also enjoyed the explanation as to the sources of the data. I had wondered why it was so obviously not current information and was glad to learn this. I also enjoyed looking at the three-dimensional views of Minneapolis. I am anxious to show my family what I have learned. But... then again, I can barely get some of them to use MapQuest. =)

October 19, 2006

The Computer Delusion

It almost seems counter-intuitive to be agreeing with this article in a class like this. I find myself afraid of being perceived as a Republican (shudder)…. but I did think that there were some very good reasons to pause and think about the head-long rush into computerized instruction on every hand.
The analogy to the filmstrips of the 1990's made me laugh, not because it was comical, but because it was all too true. Students loved them because they did not have to think and teachers loved them because they did not have to teach, parents loved them because their school was high-tech and no learning took place. That does seem a very apt comparison to the real-life use of computers in some schools today.
Najarro stated, "Every single child will do more work for you and do better work with a computer. Just because it is on a monitor, kids pay more attention. There's magic to the screen." Ortiz argues that "it is highly motivating" for students. The problem that I see with both of these statements, even if they happen to be true, is that the motivation is outside of the students themselves. In my classroom (at some point in the term) I often write on the board "yougottawanna." Which translates into You Have To Want To Do It." Students without internal motivation will not succeed, even if they are briefly enticed to perform some tasks in the classroom. The old dinosaur teacher in me believes that we have been very successful in teaching students self-esteem. Too successful, in fact. They are so satisfied with who they are and how they perform that they see absolutely no need to work, or try to get better. They are just fine the way they are, thank you very much. We have applauded their every attempt, even the less-than-admirable ones, and tried so hard to make sure that no one's feelings were ever bruised by losing, that we have created a generation of students who see no reason to exert themselves. No matter what happens, they will be applauded, probably receive a dozen roses, and maybe a new car. They are truly shocked when they receive an F on an assignment, or in a class, and immediately assume that it can be fixed with a little extra credit. I personally foresee many of them permanently inhabiting their parents' basements. And the parents will live with the "monsters" they (and the schools) have created.
I do not believe that computers are necessarily either good or bad for kids, although some of the arguments about sitting in front of a screen instead of developing real-life skills did have a real ring of authenticity to them. I suppose that I do also see too much of what the author blames on Sesame Street, in that my students have a hard time concentrating on things that do not shape shift, change color and dance every thirty seconds. I have even read research that suggests that kids' brains are being hard wired in the developing stages to require such constantly changing images by watching television. They argued that this is what accounts for the amazing rise in the diagnosis of ADD and ADHD. While I cannot speak to the validity of their science because I read the article too long ago, it did give me pause.
I guess the bottom line is, that while I love the Information Superhighway, I do feel that children are better served by doing "real" things with "real" people. I made my children turn off the TV and go outside. Now I make my grandchildren turn off the computer and go outside.

October 9, 2006

Constructivism in the Classroom

As I read the article assigned for this week I grew more and more discouraged. It seems like an insurmountable task to recreate all of my lesson plans into "student-centered" learning experiences. What school actually has the technology resources to make the things in this article a reality? We certainly don't. We are lucky to get into the Internet lab once or twice a term, and then it has to be on their schedule, not mine. That is completely contrary to the suggestion of the article that "teachers allow student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies and alter content." I am not even sure that I agree that that is such a great idea. I do want my students to be engaged in the content, but if I only taught what they are interested in, many of the important ideas, skills, and concepts that they need to know would NEVER see the light of day. I guess I just do not buy into the idea that the "old" way is so terrible. Again, I am struck by the irony of the authors, who obviously excelled under the current, archaic educational system, suggesting that it is a failure and something that must be replaced. I was reminded of Vince's comments about the amount of money to be made by declaring that education must be reformed. I found the argument that teachers must realize that "their view of teaching is based on an educational model that has been around since the dawn of the industrial age" and therefore MUST be discarded to be insulting in its logic-free conclusion. Just because something is old, that does not mean it is necessarily bad. And just because something is new, we cannot assume that it is necessarily better. It reminded me of the spurious advertising ploys that I teach my sophomores. Always beware of claims that something is "New and Improved." I am actually excited about integrating some of the cool new technological methods into my classroom, but the example in the article is so far beyond what I ever see myself doing as to be fantasy. I feel pretty sure that I am a dinosaur…. and we know what happened to them.

October 5, 2006

Metablognition

If thinking about thinking is called metacognition, is blogging about blogging metablognition?

I enjoyed reading about the "history" of blogging. I had no idea where the name, or the concept orignated. My kids are so impressed that I am blogging, or that someone as OLD as I am even knows the word "blogging."

I wanted to raise an issue that I heard on MPR recently. They were talking about the permanent nature of blogs. They said that it was becoming a resource for employers and even university admissions officers. They can locate blogs that prospective employees or students have posted, some years old, and they use these to make some of the tough calls about hiring or admission. I thought that was very interesting and something that we might want to make our students aware of. Did they ever consider the idea that someone might look at their entries at some distant point in their future and make crucial decisions about them? It might make them more careful. Hmmmmm.

September 27, 2006

Learning with technology: using computers as cognitive tools - rant


I have to start my response to this article by raising a question that plagues me often. The authors of this article begin by commenting very negatively on the “traditional ‘instructivist’ pedagogy … that has characterized educational practice for decades.? They claim that it has “stymied intellectual growth? and call for a change. I am always slightly amused by such rhetoric written by people who have obviously been produced by the very system they denigrate. It obviously worked for them or they would not be where they are now. I am not saying that their call for change is not valid; I just find it funny that the call for change comes from those who are so very fluent and successful in functioning in the dominant code of the very process they decry. Just a thought before commenting on the article itself. =)
I also found myself skeptical of their comment on the constructivist perspective that “the ultimate nature of reality, or whether it even exists, does not matter as much as our unique and shared constructions of reality.? Oh please…… My construction of reality is just that…. my construction…. It does not change reality. I suppose I find myself somewhat in the instructivist camp because I am old enough to believe that it is indeed valid to believe that teachers can and should convey certain kinds of knowledge to students. While all of the arguments about allowing students to represent their own understanding of the material in various ways seem very appealing and credible, I still believe that it is my responsibility to convey some “standardized interpretations of the world? to my students. A well-educated person does have some nodding acquaintance with how the rest of the world interprets a text, a play, a poem or theories about science or math. Unfortunately for my students, they do not really just get to make up their own little worlds and live in them. What a disservice it would be to them to make them believe that their view is the only “reality.?
The idea that our very conception of knowledge must change so that “we should move from a conception of knowledge as possession of facts and figures to one of knowledge as the ability to retrieve information from databases and use it to solve problems? is problematic for me. This is clearly advantageous for some fields and in some cases. However, I see that there are other situations, and perhaps other kinds of information that must be stored in the human brain, not in a laptop. When a mother tucks her children in at night, are we really to believe that reading a story to them from a screen is the same as being able to tell them a story, rich in authentic details and elaborations, that she has tucked away in her memory? Because I work in the humanities, literature and theatre, I see the human mind as being a critical storehouse of information from which all personal creativity can be fueled because of all the details stored there from an intimate familiarity with the works of others. Salomon et.al. (1991) make this point very well and I must admit that I find myself clearly in their camp.
All that does not mean that I don’t see the advantages that having students use computers and software to handle many, many tasks and kinds of learning. I do see that that can be VERY valuable, I just don’t want to have the other kinds of learning be totally invalidated in the way that the authors appear to be leaning. I could go on and on commenting on the various kinds of programs and their potential applications as tools for constructing meaning and scaffolding new information, but the authors do an excellent job of outlining the possibilitie s and they comment ethically on the actual research that supports the use of each of the kinds of programs they discuss. An interesting and thought provoking article.

September 17, 2006

Hypertext and the Changing Role of Readers

Blog on Hypertext and the Changing Role of Readers

I must admit that I personally prefer reading a book to reading on a screen. I, like the author, learned to read lying on my bed, hoping not to be interrupted. I love to read. When I have to read something long I always print it out too, and peruse it at my leisure and mark it up to suit my purpose.
As an English teacher I really struggle with the whole idea of encouraging students to always "challenge the author" or add their own thoughts to a text. All too often they listen, not to learn but to find fault and they thus miss any chance to learn and change because they are seeking to change or challenge others. Unfortunately my students' thoughts are rarely insightful or profound; they are much more likely to be insipid or just smart-mouthed.
I totally agreed that they would be likely to be more "animated" and "engaged' but it would be because of the novelty of the activity. A few of them would respond to the element of power intrinsic in clicking and directing their own path of research and would do more than they ordinarily would. Some would just try to find ways to goof around and make it look like they were working, but all their clicks and links would be viewed or read on only the most superficial level.
I did like the idea of the Scavenger Hunts. I thought this would be a great way to get reluctant students engaged in a pursuit of knowledge that they might not be open to if it were presented in another format (like lecture). In fact, I am already thinking about ways that I could incorporate a scavenger hunt into my classes. Most of my students have Internet access at home, or at a friend's house, so I would probably not have to take them to a lab. Perhaps they could do the assignment at home. Perhaps it could be extra credit, to allow for those who might not have the Internet at home. I will have to give that more thought.
I was also intrigued by the idea of creating a space for a discussion forum. My senior class reads the novel Montana 1948. There are several issues that would lend themselves beautifully to a cyber-discussion. Since some of the issues are touchy, the students might be much more willing to discuss if I were to give them a "voice" in a setting that was less threatening than a face-to-face classroom discussion. I am definitely going to investigate the NCTE Web site. I was also enticed by the description of the National Geographic Web site that allows readers to become someone accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Wouldn't this be a great addition to any study of The Crucible?
I found myself agreeing with Janet Murray's position that the "reader of electronic text... is not experiencing authorship. The reader is experiencing agency, Deciding where to click does not constitute authorship." I am very much a creature of my training. Snyder suggests that "the tradition of print literacy privileges the author." YES. And in my archaic world that is exactly how it should be. That is the reality that I am comfortable with. I am also comfortable with the author's contention that hypertext is here to stay and we just need to accept that and do what we will with it. I just cannot see it ever replacing that wonderful feeling that books give me.
I am currently writing this on my laptop sitting in the car while we travel to Iowa to visit our daughter who is a freshman at Grinnell College. It is family weekend and they have many "events" planned. But the upshot of all that is that I am not currently able to access the Internet and can hardly wait until we get to the hotel to look at some of the sources this article discusses.

September 12, 2006

Computers as Mindtools

As I read this article, it seemed to be talking about me, and my experience with this class. As we were designing the concept maps in class on Thursday, I was not only learning the technology and how I might use it to help my students, I was thinking about how I used technology in my classroom in new ways. As I read the statement: "By comparing semantic networks created at different points in time, they can also be used as evaluation tools for assessing changes in thinking by learners" I realized that that was exactly what we were doing by creating a concept map at this early stage in the class and another final one that will be due at the end. The final maps will reflect what we have learned in this class and will represent the changes that have taken place in the way we think about information and are able to design a representation.
I thought the SimCalc project looked like a program that some of my students would get very excited about. Many of my students love to play video games and can discuss endlessly the various levels of the games they play. The discussion of the Visualization tools that are especially useful in chemistry sounded like something that would have helped me. Chemistry was really not my best class.
I got really excited about the Hypermedia. I would really like to create links that my students could follow for additional information about a subject, and the idea that they could add to those links when they found new sites was very appealing. Although I did have a moment's pause thinking about the kinds of links they might add. I wondered if it would be possible to block inappropriate things, links or images from being added to a site. Since I teach senior English some of my 18-year-old boys might try some very inappropriate tricks. I would have to have some way to monitor who was adding what, so that there could be some level of identification and accountability. That may sound overly cautious, but my students do some pretty strange things sometimes.
The conversation tools are the most familiar to me. While I have never blogged before today, I certainly love e-mail and instant messages. I would love to create a sit
uation where my students were required to formulate coherent and cogent contributions to a discussion. I have my students write at least one paragraph per day to me. I grade it and always return it the very next day. (Not exactly instant messages but dialogue nevertheless.) They tell me things and contribute ideas SO much more readily in writing than they ever do in discussion. I think it is partly because it feels safer. They know that I will be the only one reading their writing, and if they were in a communication environment where other students would be reading what they wrote, I am sure that some of the frankness would be lost, but I still think that they would be far more willing to "talk" if they could do by typing their responses. I would even like to see that kind of dialogue happening while we were all sitting in the same room. If all the kids were on a computer and could type their responses to questions or discussion issued, I wonder how they would respond.
I asked the tech consultant in my building if the district owned Inspiration and if it could be loaded on my laptop and my classroom computer. She said she would come and do it in the morning. It was just that easy. I was so excited. After we had worked on our mind maps in class I wanted to do more and continue to "play" with the program, but it is not on my home computer….. So here we all go. I am excited about this class.