November 16, 2006

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.