Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Swim suit controversy offers perspective to education

It is hard to believe that I am sitting here in my office at school today. The realization that we are on the downhill side of summer already is shocking. I came in to work on the calendar but could not help reflecting on all the thoughts that have been running through my head since BLC '09. I then came across an article about my other passion - swimming - and the controversy surrounding the new suit technology and it's impact on the sport. It gave me some perspective on the battle we have in our schools to integrate technology into our classrooms.

What I found interesting in this article was Leonard's use of the words 'maximized' and 'enhance'. Here is an exerpt from the article that demonstrates...

"Swimsuits, up until approximately the year 2000, and certainly until early 2008, were designed to maximize the opportunity of the athletes to go fast. The manufacturers designed suits to "get out of the way of the water". Less suit, less friction with the water, less drag, tighter fit, and better materials MAXIMIZED the ability of the athlete to perform to their highest earned level. Beginning in 2008, manufacturers took advantage (and must be applauded for doing so, within the existing rules, which were close to non-existent) of the idea of designing suits to ENHANCE the ability of the athlete to swim faster. A line had been crossed. Designed suits incorporated plastics, rubberized material and new design criteria, to enhance the ability of the athlete to be buoyant in the suits (riding higher makes you faster), wrapped more tightly (compressing the "jiggly parts" makes you MUCH faster) and shed water from the plastics and rubber materials much more effectively, thereby reducing the drag of the suits remarkably."

The connection that I see to our plight as educators is with these two words. I believe that when educators think of technology and the impact it will/does have on our classrooms they are viewing it as an 'enhancement'. Using the swim suit article as a reference for meaning, it would mean that a student or teacher that has access to technology has an unfair advantage over one who does not and that their education will be better. We know this is not the case as students have been learning to read and write, think critically and problem solve for years with or without technology. I bring this up because I believe that many educators (teachers for the most part) are reluctant to try and introduce technology into their classrooms because they see it as this monumental shift away from what they feel they are good at or comfortable with.

If educators could take a more subtle approach to the introduction of technology into their day to day practice I believe we would make more gains in a shorter period of time. We need educators to realize that technology will help students to 'maximize' their learning potential, but not in the absence of a work ethic or a desire to participate in the learning process.

As I said in a previous post 'good teaching is good teaching' regardless of the level of technology. However, technology in the hands of students will allow teachers to maximize the learning opportunities by being more creative, more current, and allowing students to network and learn from each other in an environment that they are already comfortable in.

Anyone feel like going for a swim...?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

In the end it all comes down to assessment...

The last 3 days at BLC '09 was an amazing experience. The quality of the presenters and conference goers was exceptional. Listening to the amazing keynotes and breakout sessions was inspiring to say the least. The future is an exciting time, it is going to be different-for certain, but filled with opportunities that we can't even imagine today. This knowledge should have a profound effect on how we teach our children.

No longer can we continue to do the same old stuff in our classrooms, we need to start meeting the kids where they are. Our middle school students were born in 1996, they started school in 2001, they have never known the world to be unconnected. They network with a vast community of peers instantaneously - this is normal for them, not new or novel. Our teachers on the other hand are still cautious because for the first time students are driving the bus, they are demanding that we allow them to be connected, learning through their community networks on the web - yet we still fight to hold onto what we know and are comfortable with. We are losing our grip though. It might just be time to jump on that skateboard (look at the photo on the upper right of my blog).

It is imperative that we look at how we can change our teaching practices to incorporate what our students use for tools instinctively. Much like we grew up using a paper and pen, our students today use their phones and iPods to communicate, research and learn. What would we have done if when we threw a paper ball or passed a note, the teacher confiscated all of our paper and gave it to the principal for the day? Or if I used a pen to poke someone or write something inappropriate would the teachers ask me to put my pens in my locker and not bring them out again? This is what we do with our students cell phones and iPods - or better yet their learning tools.

In the end it all comes down to assessment. Until we embrace the idea of allowing creativity into our classrooms, breakaway from the need to have students memorize content for tests, we will continue to do a disservice for our students. Given the opportunity our students would surprise us. Take a look at this english essay on the Cantebury Tales as an example.

Our need to mark students as individuals, to give them a score is counter productive to real learning. Our students exist in an environment where they can read a blog, an online article and respond directly to the author with a comment. They can debate the merits of a piece with other people who have read the same article from possibly the other side of the world. Imagine how rich an experience that would be for our students.

I don't have the answers, but I am certainly going to start asking the questions. We need to change our ways. I think we need to start with assessment. Good teaching, is good teaching with or without technology. If we can improve our assessment practices to become more formative in nature it will be much easier to bring technology into the classroom and allow students to be creative in the way they learn and present information.

We have a great deal to 'unlearn' before we can truly move forward and meet our students where they are. I am starting to forget...