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Learning about the Internet Machine

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

For my “Teaching and Learning with the Internet” course I read The Semantic Web by Lee, Hendler, and Lassila (2001), Wikipedia’s entry on the Internet, and Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century from the MacArthur Foundation.

Periodic Table of the Internet

I often joke about “the internet machine,” something I keep in my closet that has numerous gear systems and maybe a steam engine, but that is not really how I conceptualize it. Though it does have a physical infrastructure, it manifests itself in way that is less tangible. It reminds me of human consciousness. Without a physical brain, we would not be conscious, but consciousness is a state of being that extends beyond the physical realm. Somehow, the sum is greater than the parts. Within that space we build a web of data and continuously restructure and rewire ourselves. In much the same way, our use of the internet, or the World Wide Web more specifically, does the same thing. From what I understand, which is not much, our participatory culture or tagging, rating, and interaction with the web is establishing more sophisticated categories and networks of information. It seems we are beginning to use the web like we use our brains, prioritzing information, sorting data, searching, synthesizing, analyzing, evaluating, altering, and other verbs. Will computers be able to think through a multistep process like coordinating schedules for an appointment like the scenario described in “The Semantic Web”? I would imagine so as more applications become integrated such as your personal iCal and an online appiontment booker. This demonstrates great advances in technology, but what does it mean for education?

The MacArthur report makes a good case for teaching students “21st Century” skills focused on critical media consumption and production. Why not teach and learn with today’s tools, rather than outdated materials? In other vocations, training tries to keep up with the pace of technological advances in the field. Would you train a professional camera man to use VHS or digital? A doctor to use arthroscopic surgery techniques or more invasive tools? Should we still train students on a paper based system in an increasingly paperless society? The answers seem obvious. However, I read another article The Web 2.0 Way of learning with technologies by Rollett et al. (2007) that touched on the difficulty of translating the “openness” of web 2.0 into the classroom. Essentially, the cornerstone of Web 2.0 is that it is open for users create, modify, and add value to the content and structure of the web. It is self organizing. Education seems to be the opposite of this. It is standardized, predetermined, measured, and mostly encourages obligatory participation. For example, in two of my classes this semester I am required to blog. I am participating in the online conversation because I was asked to, not because I had an interest I wanted to develop and share with others online. I presume my readers will be the other students in my class and my instructor. How is this different than turning in a written reflection? The medium has changed, but the intention and outcome have not. Last semester I started a blog because I wanted to. I did not wait for an assignment of instructions on how to use it, or what purposes it could serve. I desperately wanted to “participate” in some form and I gained a lot from the experience. It was self directed and self organized rather than a requirement to be fulfilled. So, I think that using “the internet machine” in classrooms can be a wonderful thing, but also can take away its essence depending on how we use it.

 

 

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Categories: Miscellaneous

Looking for innovation?

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a great talk on “new” resources for educational innovation. I am wondering how others feel about his statement that our system of education “stratifies society as much as it liberates it” and his suggestion to look to the slums for examples of creative solutions to our educational dilemma.

Competitive Disadvantage

May 13, 2011 2 comments

Watch this uplifting video promoting the Common Core State Standards. I found a link to it on the facebook page of PARCC, one of the assessment consortia working to develop tests for the CCSS.

I am struck by the propaganda in this video. One woman says we are adopting the CCSS to “make sure America maintains a competitive edge.” And here I thought it was about helping students learn!

The statistics at the beginning also say a lot about our national self-esteem. Any psychologist would tell you that constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to “measure up” is not a healthy outlook. Just because Shanghai has 5,000 high rises and we only built two in LA does not mean we are failing as a country. What does that have to do with educational standards? Maybe it is a good thing we did not build more high rises. Maybe that is not what LA needed.

Is it possible that these countries were not motivated by the need to out perform their neighbor? What it is we are competing for exactly?

I am not sure, but I do know our national self-esteem is low and as a result, we feel very threatened by other countries’ high rises and high-speed rails. Perhaps we need to follow some positive thinking advice,

“Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.” Unknown

What do we have?

Everything is a Crisis

May 12, 2011 1 comment

The Creativity Crisis: Why American Schools Need Design – The Atlantic.

Did you know there is another educational crisis looming on the horizon? Not only are we behind in math and science, but we lack creativity as well. I think this article raises a great point, but fails to identify the root of the problem.

First of all, I do not believe we are not in a “creativity crisis.” Creativity is a natural human resource. What we have created are systems of education and professional training that do not allow or cultivate creative expression. It may seem like there is no creativity, but it is there, we just have to tap into it. Also, we have to stop adopting the deficit model for every single educational initiative. Maybe it is not that students lack these qualities, but that they lack opportunities to express them.

For example, this article referenced the frustration of some Stanford engineering, architecture, and design professors who, “realized that their best students had never taken apart a bicycle or built a model airplane.” It is not the students’ fault that they are in this position. It is the failure of our leaders and “reformers” to consider the consequences of a standards and assessment based educational system. Why does it take 12+ years to figure out that the education that was meant to prepare you for “any opportunity” is actually limiting your abilities and career potential?

What is being done? The article highlights one effort, led by RISD’s president, to change STEM into STEAM (A for the arts) presumably in line with Ralph Raimi’s suggestion that, “the first purpose of educational reform is to change the climate in the hierarchy of education so that our descendants will be able to advance a ‘true cause.'”

But I don’t think this is the answer. Adding an A to alter the hierarchy is not going to solve the crisis, because there is no crisis.

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed-it needs to be transformed. The key to transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” Sir Ken Robinson

The resources are there in our students, maybe it is our job to think more creatively about the educational process.

Just thinking….

Common Core State Standards for Social Justice?

May 10, 2011 3 comments

I have mentioned the CCSS before in my first post as being yet another version of standards for education. I first heard about them in one of my last staff meetings as a teacher at a K-8 charter school in Indianapolis. We were all sitting together in the gymnasium/lunchroom and shown a video released by the Indiana Department of Education introducing the Common Core State Standards. As I remember it, it seemed like an advertisement for a new and improved set of standards. The video also stated that teachers would still be accountable for teaching the old, Indiana state standards as we transitioned into the era of CCSS. You could almost hear a collective groan from my colleagues. More standards?

When I first started this project I thought it would be interesting to develop a curriculum that utilized new technology for the purpose of motivating and engaging students.  When I presented my idea to my professor, I stated that it would be aligned to existing standards because I believed such things were necessary for teaching and I also wanted to make my design marketable for today’s educational market. I also believed that the standards did not prevent me from teaching in an innovative way. For example, I can teach students about photosynthesis (an ever popular topic in eighth grade science) through a traditional, textbook based lesson or I can let them explore the topic on their own in a more open process involving computer supported collaborative learning. I suppose I accepted that there must be standards in education and I was willing to work with them instead of against them. What a convenient position to take.

But what happens when you start questioning the motivation for having standards in education? For me, I have found that I cannot find a satisfactory answer. I have also discovered that people become really uncomfortable and unwilling to have a conversation with you when you broach the subject, especially when they work in education. I do not have an answer yet, but I was surprised to learn that Phil Daro, co-lead author of the CCSS for mathematics, sees the standards as a vehicle for social justice. To paraphrase Dr. Daro, we have to make sure that every kid gets enough math to have decent opportunities in life.

Is that why we should adopt the common core? To achieve social justice? Can a set of educational standards deliver such a promise? Should it?

I hear this rhetoric often in my work. We are teaching students X because we want them to have a “real future.” We want them to have a “decent opportunity.” We believe that teaching them mathematics, science, English, and social studies will help us accomplish this mission. I want to know, have we considered other alternatives? Have we critically examined if the processes we engage in truly match our goals? Why are we so focused on the future, instead of working in the present?

It is hard for me to believe that my students learned about photosynthesis because they too wanted to have a “decent opportunity” for a “good” life. I would imagine some of them learned about it because they were truly interested in understanding the world around them, some maybe felt parental pressure to earn a good grade, or maybe they did buy into the “just in case” ideology of school. Will any of them sacrifice their opportunity for a good life if they do not understand photosynthesis? I could say yes but that is because I know it is covered again in high school biology and I do not want them to fail that course and have it show up on their transcripts.

The common thread here is that these are things we, as adults, want for our students. What about what students want? What about discussing what really motivates them to learn this material? We are so focused on the future that we lose sight of the joy and curiosity students bring with them to the classroom. What about learning just to learn and letting the rest be a byproduct of that process?

Just a thought.

iPads for kindergartners?

May 5, 2011 4 comments

I subscribe to Edweek.org’s “Digital Directions” newsletter and read an article about the use of iPads with kindergarnters. A school district in Maine is advocating for more iPads in kindergarten classrooms. Critics point out that there is little research to demonstrate the effects of such technology (positive or negative) on early childhood learning. Also, some fear that valuable social experiences will decrease as technology increases its presence in the classroom. On the other hand, advocates claim that it is a tool for expression and creation, like a marker and many other items found in kindergarten classrooms.

I must admit that when I saw the title, my first reaction was kindergartners? It does seem like a young age to be using iPads, but when viewed as another resource in the toolkit of an early childhood educator it begins to make more sense. Also, because it utilizes a touch screen it seems like it would be perfect for young children! I guess it depends on how you perceive the role of technology in the classroom. Is it just another tool, or is it replacing teaching and social learning?

Read the original article here iPad Use Among Kindergartners Sparks Debate.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Technology

Is creativity as important as literacy?

April 27, 2011 4 comments

Here’s another wonderful talk from Sir Ken Robinson about creativity and education. After watching it, please respond to the poll below.

Categories: Miscellaneous