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.