Thursday, March 25, 2010

Week #12: Recognizing the Japanese Zero, Slide Rules & Other "Learning Objects"

Okay, Gary - I beat you to the punch this week (But I notice Julye was before any of us - missed you tonight Julye!)

For tonight I will only put up this video, similar to the Ma and Pa Kettle (enjoy, Ben!) More to come later!


OK, back again...

Japanese Zero was an interesting film, for many reasons. The methods used for teaching was the main one, however, I also found it interesting for its historical value. Here is a photo of a P-40 (this was at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Michigan - used in air shows) and a Zero (taken at the RAF Museum in London, UK) from my collection (aircraft, and in particular WW II aircraft is a interest/hobby of mine, I routinely drag my wife to air museums). Can you recognize them?

The film used a number of features to get the important point of the instruction across, from repetition to animation and the entertainment element was added in so the repetition could be put into a real context. It even used multiple learning styles, using visual and aural. As I watched, I thought about all the ways we use for getting information across. In this case, it was really rote learning, yet it was a matter of life and death so the message had to be made so it was automatic. In many skills like this, we know that ‘practice makes perfect’. Anyone who coaches a sport knows this well (as do musicians, dancers, etc), certain skills are practiced over and over, perhaps in different drills, so the skill becomes routine or automatic. Using mathematics as an example, if the goal is to learn to factor a trinomial, we of course want the student to understand the concept, however, if one wants to be proficient in factoring, then the old ‘drill and kill’ does work. Constructivist learning theories are in vogue, and I do believe they work; yet I wonder if all the various theories of learning have merit. Does the method really depend on what is to be learned, the reason for learning it and the nature of the concept to be learned?
Part of looking back is to see what these artifacts can teach us about our practice now. This also applied to the ‘podcast’ Denis showed us in the form of the large vinyl record. I really was struck by Denis’ comments (my recollection of this!) that many of these ideas are not anything new, that we have always experimented and made use of the media of the day in creative ways. The question, as Denis put in his comments about the presentations (about mine in particular) is which of these technologies will be around in 5, 10  or 15 years? Will they become like the old vinyl records – unusable and lost? Or will they withstand the test of time?

Our TED talks:
A few quick comments on the presentations, all were every interesting, I feel fortunate to be in such company & look forward to the rest next class!

Paul’s slide rule brought back many memories; I even remembered how to do some of the operations. As soon as Paul started I recalled the scene in Apollo 13 that he mentioned where the engineers all grabbed their slide rules to verify the orbital burn calculations. The technology and engineering skill used in making this calculation device is amazing – again illustrating how old technology does not mean it was ‘primitive’. It speaks to the ingenuity of humans when so many successful moon landings were carried out with such ‘primitive’ technology! Modern graphing calculators can be wonderful tools that allow us to skip some of the drudgery and examine concepts, yet to use the slide rule you REALLY had to know place value & estimation, skills we try to get across today.

Lana’s holographs was interesting, just like Star Wars in 1977! The interesting thing was that CNN (Wolf Blitzer) spent most of the time cooing about the technology and not about the point of the broadcast – the election results! So much for seemless, but I guess there has to be a first for everything (although it wasn’t there as Lana pointed out!).

Young Mike’s look back was interesting. It looks like his course back in ‘96 (ha!) was a good one, but more interesting is the changes from then to now. It also shows why we shouldn’t just throw all our artifacts away – they have value even 15 years later!  

Gary’s look at learning objects was well done (especially considering his illness the last week - many good sites to go back and look at, Gary). The Ma and Pa Kettle clip, although old, could still have value as a teaching object. It is amusing, but a math teacher could show this and ask students to explain the errors or find another example that would work in Ma and Pa’s methodology. The discussion about the use of the learning objects was also interesting.

My presentation is here, if you are interested. Once you get to slide 2, just go to the next and the intro video will play!The images that appeared and disappeared on certain slides are a jumble… sorry!

Finally – Denis talked about standards and used the ISTE standards to illustrate some of the concerns. We have considered them before so in the course, as well.  This video of Sir Ken Robinson on the Bonnie Hunt show is a good one about the shortcomings of standardized tests! Enjoy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Week #11: A Plethora of Presentations

This week we heard three interesting presentations and engaged in some good discussion – good job by all! I will touch on a few points from each in this week’s blog post.

Kaiser Report (revisited):

Reading the full report and hearing Lana’s take on it revealed much more than simply the amount of time kids spend on media. I will comment on a few items. One item of interest is that TV viewing is not decreasing as we often hear; it is just that kids are not watching it ‘live’. I understand this, since I do the same. I usually record the shows I want to watch so I can skip the ads (a benefit of technology as far as I am concerned!) and watch on my schedule. Another positive finding was that reading and physical activity has not dropped, although more physical activity would be of benefit when we hear so much about obesity problems. While reading books has not decreased, much media use requires reading as well – although a different type of reading, so do kids read more in total? The amount of multitasking is understandable as well. Most, it seems, involves listening to music or TV and doing something else. Listening to music is something I think many people do while engaging in other activities, I don’t see that aspect as anything new. Finally we see the move to cell phones – mobility, as the Horizon Report pointed out, is the new wave.

The role of parents is important in terms of media consumption. Parents who put some controls on media use have children who use media less, and have better grades. While parents have influence, many do not regulate media use of their children. As was mentioned in class, it could be because they do not understand the media themselves, a symptom of a generational divide. One troubling trend is that more devices are located in kid’s bedrooms. For years, parents have been advised to keep computers in ‘public’ areas of their homes and to discuss computer (media) use with their children, yet this message does not seem to be having an impact. This trend again points to the importance of modeling and teaching ethical and appropriate use of technology in schools. The report writers are careful to not make any cause and effect pronouncements, a good thing. Do kids who are getting lower marks and ‘getting into trouble’ do so because of technology use, or are all three symptoms of some other problem? The results of this study provide some insight and are interesting, yet, like any statistical study, the results must be carefully weighed. For example, in the media diary, students mark off when they use a media type for 15 minutes in any half hour – does this mean that 15 or 16 minute use appears as 30 minutes in the results? The study does prompt thought and more questions.

Thwarted Innovation: This article contradicts many recent studies that show huge growth in online courses, especially in post-secondary, but in secondary as well (examples: Sloan Consortium & Canadian Council on Learning). However, as we know, changes in educational technology have been taking place rapidly. Today (Friday) I attended a talk at the U of W by a researcher from the University of Central Florida. This university has about 53, 000 students – third largest in the US and online/blended learning is very popular. Another ‘muddy area’ is the definition of eLearning as Roman pointed out (ah, definitions again!). To many it means online learning, but according to the Canadian Council on Learning, it refers to any use of digital technology for learning, be it face-to-face or online. One conclusion the article’s authors reached was that online learning would not increase until the pedagogy changed. This is born out in many research studies, including the one I was involved with. There is agreement that teaching online is NOT the same as face to face. One of the problems with online learning, especially in the early days (and perhaps in secondary schools here in Manitoba) is that teachers try to move their face to face course online, which is generally not successful.

21st Century Skills:

The aspects that stick out very clearly in this report were described clearly by Roland. The language is similar to many other reports from the US (but not peculiar to the US), the influence of business is abundantly clear. It seems that the only reason schools exist are to prepare good little workers. I have discussed this in other blog posts, so that is all I will say about that. The other thing about the report that comes across clearly is the attitude. It seems that the only thing that can spur change or convince people to buy into any idea is to rely on emotion, in particular, fear and pride. I love watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report because they point out how ridiculous this is; yet news networks and both ends of the political spectrum use fear so often. I often wonder how much could get accomplished if people would actually sit down, discuss rationally and try to understand one another. In many of these polarities, the differences are not as great as they seem.

(BTW here is Canada’s version of 21st Century Learning)

Well, this is already too long, I know I don't have to comment on each presentation, but I can't help myself! If you read all of this, I thank you and applaud your perseverance!

Late addition: just came across this segment of Bill Maher - relates to a recent firing of all teachers in a school in the US & one of the topics of the Kaiser Report: Parents!

Yet another late addition: story today on CBC: Survey says Canadians like PC more than TV.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Week #10 (sort of) Heidegger revisited...

Just came across this article on Wired, seems Heidegger was right...

Also - just came across this video of Tim Berners Lee doing a TED talk on open data:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week #9: Education as Commodity & Other Things

First off, this is the link to my presentation tonight on Anderson's "Towards a Theory of Online Learning": Click here!

I am swamped in marking, so this will be brief!

First off, I want to explore the idea of theory, which was touched on in the chapter I presented. Educational theorizing is often frowned upon by teachers (I know, I was/am one) as not grounded in the reality of the classroom. I agree with Anderson, however, that good theory allows us to think about the big picture and use the ideas to reflect on our own practice. On the other hand, as Anderson pointed out, a theory can also blind us if we subscribe to one ‘pet’ view without question. Going back to the previous weeks presentations/articles, although I did not necessarily subscribe to the views given, I think it is still important to listen to and consider alternate theories and ideas. For example, take the The Computer Delusion by Oppenheimer. While I do believe that technology can offer much to improve education, his anecdotes (although it is interesting how he uses these stories to support his view, yet decries them as poor research earlier in the article) illustrate how NOT to use computers in the classroom. Likewise, Kirschner’s article argues that discovery learning is not advisable. Although I do not think his description of inquiry learning is the model promoted for classroom use, it does remind us of the importance of scaffolding- or guidance - in teaching, all elements of good practice. I guess my point is that arguments that prompt us to question and consider our practice critically are important to our growth as educators. Learning and teaching are messy, they are not easily reduced to theory since they are human endeavors, and humans vary, what works in one situation may not in another. Theory gives us a starting point, ideas to consider and test in the reality of our practice.

Before I move on to my next topic, I recently was watching a few video episodes of Search Engine (from TVO) with Jesse Brown. Take a look at the episodes called “The Luddite” (just funny!), and the ones about saving newspapers (related to Ben’s post a while back about changing media) and about the Internet making us dumber. The videos are funny, but make some good points for consideration.

Now, to finish, I will turn to the some of the ideas Ben presented about the move to education as commodity in the move to corporate globalization. This idea, in particular, was of interest. There has been a distinct trend, especially in the U.S. towards treating education as a business. In some cases, there is a call to have Business Administrators run schools so they are efficient producers. Students are treated like products, throw out the bad ones, churn out good little future workers. We want them to think, but not too much, after all, they might question the status quo! I do not disagree that one of the jobs of a school is to prepare students to become meaningfully employed and enjoy a good standard of living, however, many of the jobs today’s students will enjoy do not exist. There are many other reasons for education as well, like the ability to think creatively and critically, to be ethical, good citizens, to respect other people and viewpoints, to appreciate other ways of thinking and the list goes on. Many of these skills would also be important for employment, but life is more than a job. (As an aside, I came across this wiki recently where the topic of what education is for, is discussed – interesting and something I think all teachers need to think about – why are we doing what we do, teaching what we teach?). Increasingly we see the influence of business, the call for ‘accountability’ – while not a bad thing, is always based on standards set by organizations with a heavy corporate influence and tested by an external, standardized test, that more often than not reduces learning to rote procedures and knowledge. Now corporations might not all be evil, no doubt some wonderful people head up corporations, but their main goal is profit – sometimes at the expense of people and the environment – thus, we need to resist the corporatization of schools – or at least bend them to our will! On that note … I will close up my Apple computer (one of many Apple products, I own), go see if my Toyota is still in one piece and… ) enough of a rant for now and so much for brief!