Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bloom's Digital Taxonomy

This framework was helpful to me but I also have some reservations about the implications it raises about the use of technology in the classroom. I think as we integrate technology in the classroom it is necessary to be systematic about it and make sure that the technology lines up with sound educational theories and systematic evaluation.

Technological fluency is increasingly valuable and we need to make sure that the way we are using technology in the classroom fits with our other (research based) educational objectives. To this end it was helpful to see how technology in general and specific tools meshed with Bloom's Taxonomy. On the flip side, it was hard for me to read through and process everything with so many lists, categories and technical terms. The rubrics helped but overall it was easy to get lost within the specialized jargon of Bloom's Taxonomy. I think as I actually get into a classroom and go back and look at things like this it will all make more sense.

As I've commented before in this class, I think technological fluency represents not only an invaluable skill set for students, but provides an interesting hook to get them engaged in the material. Technology is transforming the way we work but also perhaps the way we think and process information. By engaging students with technology we may also be differentiating and accommodating a new learning style.

My reservation is that when reading the Digital Taxonomy (and all the rubrics, etc.) I found myself wondering, "Wait, in incorporating these ideas/tools will I be teaching English or Technology?" I guess I worry that the focus on technology could overshadow the actual content (here I may be contradicting things I've said in other postings, but I am still working out these issues for myself...). As teachers we just need to make sure that we strike a balance and integrate the technology in an authentic way, emphasizing our content objectives first and foremost.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning supports 21st century skills in the way that it values critical thinking, interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. The world is no longer structured (as Ken Robinson points out) according to the industrial model, which emphasized linear processes and uniformity of disciplines. The world of work has changed drastically (in large part because of technology). Students need to be able to think and communicate creatively. Additionally, it is increasingly likely that the students of today will have more than one career. As such, they must be adept at navigating within several different vocational fields, which will require that they transfer existing skill sets to novel environments. Moreover, in many work environments, collaboration with peers and effective presentation and communication skills are essential. Project-based learning often encompasses all of the above.

In a Language Arts/English classroom, while working through a unit on American Literature, I might engage students in a project about American culture. I would ask the students to brainstorm a list of American cultural ideas/values present in the works we have read. (Examples could include: self-reliance, independence, manifest destiny, democracy, materialism, progress, etc.) Based on topic preference, I would divide them into small groups. In their groups they would explore the cultural value/idea as it is presented in texts read in class and then they would be asked to find examples of the idea in contemporary American culture (politics, pop culture, advertising). They would conduct research, utilizing google docs and social bookmarking tools to foster collaboration. The project would culminate in a final presentation to the class in which they chart a “history” of their value/idea from the texts read in class to present day. They would have a choice of presenting their work with the assistance of technology such as a Prezi presentation, a podcast (in the vein of an NPR style piece of radio journalism), a video, etc.

This project would support peer collaboration and the use of new technologies. Students would be asked to utilize both print-based literacy and traditional tools for analyzing literature while also being asked to develop new literacies as they examined contemporary culture (advertising, political branding, music videos, etc.). Their final presentation would help to hone both technology and communication skills. Additionally, they would see how the critical thinking skills used in analyzing English literature aid them in investigating the contemporary world. This project would help them to understand the nature of persuasion and propaganda. As such, they would learn how to investigate the world to make real decisions, such as political and consumer choices.

Obviously this is a large and involved project and there could be many pitfalls along the way. It might be difficult to keep students on task, especially since the project has multiple components and requirements. It would also involve a lot of time, which might be hard to squeeze in with all other curriculum requirements. Lastly, the technology aspects would be dictated by the resources available in your school as well as what the students have access to at home.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

21st-Century Skills: Evidence, Relevance, and Effectiveness

I see people's reservations that integrating a lot of technology is a dazzling distraction that takes away from mastery of core subject areas, however, I ultimately have to disagree.  I think that technology represents an important new set of skills, without which, our students will be ill-equipped to face the challenges, complexities and demands of the work world.  I also believe that this is true across many professions (not just once that are obviously tech reliant).  As Ken Robinson says, technology has already changed the world drastically and will only continue to do so.  He is correct when he reminds us that we have no idea what the future will look like.

Additionally, I believe that technology has probably already altered the way we are learning and processing information.  (Of course this probably has positives and negatives, but that is the subject for another posting.)  Throughout history this has always been the case.  Think of the influence of film on the other arts.  Film has undoubtedly restructured our collective conception of storytelling, uprooting and reorganizing the structure of written narrative fiction such as the novel.  Now it is not uncommon for people to describe books as "cinematic."  In this same way technology is influence the way that we--and our students--process information.  I think that we must flow with this force and find the proper balance of integrating core subject areas with technology.

Far from being a mere distraction, technology represents a vital part of most kids' lives.  Using technology in the classroom provides an organic way to make projects meaningful to them.  Regardless of the technology your are teaching students to use, it also provides them with a technical fluency that can only come in handy for the future.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flat Classroom

I find the flat classroom concept exciting and intriguing.  Technology has changed the world drastically and will only continue to do so, in ways that we cannot even imagine.  Immersing our students in this technology is an educational must.  

Likewise the technology is exciting to use, for adults and kids alike, and seems to infuse collaborative learning projects with a new energy.

The ways in which kids from widely different, geographically separated cultures can communicate is important not only for economic reasons (since the world of work has been restructured through technology) but also for larger reasons of cultural understanding.  By bringing students into contact with their peers all over the world, barriers such as racism and fear are broken.  We see this aspect specifically in the Eracism project.

I would love to be able to incorporate a flat classroom style project within my classroom.  I worry that strictly structured curriculum and the rigorous standards system currently in effect will make it hard to incorporate new and dynamic learning models such as this.  Ways around that include starting a project like this as an extracurricular.  You could use technology to foster a collaborative project (putting students in touch with international or domestic peers) for many extracurricular clubs—whether the school newspaper, literary journal, or Amnesty International group, to name a few. 

Of course, in schools where it could be fit into the curriculum, you could experiment with smaller and larger projects, depending on what your district allows.  In whatever way it could be incorporated, I believe the flat classroom represents something important that our students cannot miss out on.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

TED Video

This video was really interesting.  Overall, though, I had mixed feelings about the implications of Mitra's work.  On the one hand I was amazed and inspired by the power of technology to reach children who otherwise would have no meaningful education.  I believe that children have a natural curiosity that can be harnessed and directed toward educational goals, even in the absence of traditional classrooms and teachers.

I think it was interesting how he set up people to play "the role of the grandmother," encouraging these children from across the world.  This attests to the fact that often children just need someone to believe in them.  I think so much of the teacher's job is simply being there for and believing in the students.  I also agree with Mitra's assertion that if a teacher can be replaced by a computer, they should.

However, I also firmly believe that a great teacher cannot be replaced by a computer.  So many of the teachers who inspired me encouraged and mentored me in ways that are hard to put into words.  It wasn't what they taught me, but their enthusiasm, kindness and mentoring.  They were empathic and encouraging.  Seeing their excitement and interest in a subject area inspired me.  How could this be provided by a computer? 

While this technology and the findings of his study, if true, could bring education to millions of children who would otherwise receive none, I fear that this could potentially be used as a way to still deny many children the right to the best education.  Will this technology result in the privileged children of the world receiving the best education (with the best technology and the best human teachers) while the underclasses of the world are provided a "good enough" one-size-fits all education through computer technology?  Ideas can be great but often the results are disastrous and damaging (for instance, No Child Left Behind).

Maybe I am just being too paranoid, too idealistic, too old fashioned, or a mixture of all three.  I guess it boils down to the fact that while Mitra's talk inspired me at times, at others the whole idea kind of creeped me out.