Tag Archives: technology

Expanding the Possible

“You might want to have someone go with you, so you don’t walk into a wall,” I said. Erin was just pages away from the ending of To Kill a Mockingbird and had stood up and started walking to her next class without ever taking her eyes off the open book. Erin asked, “Isabela, will you go with me so I don’t walk into a wall?” Isabela smiled and said, “Okay,” and they drifted off together.

Erin was not alone in having become utterly immersed and captivated by the book – several other seventh graders had also read ahead, moaning at the end of study hall and refusing to put the book down. Bekah had just finished reading Atticus’s summation at Tom Robinson’s trial, and marveled at how captivating and compelling the two-page speech was. Juliana looked over at me and said, “Oh my God, this book is so good! It makes me want to be a lawyer!” I paused and thought for a second. “Interesting. It makes me want to be a writer. And yet, we’d be doing the same kinds of things and for the same reasons.” Juliana smiled back, told me, “I’m so glad I’m in Debate,” shouldered her backpack, and headed off to Art and Culture.

Earlier in the day, a group of Humanities 7 students had presented their completed video of an original script they had written for independent writing. Shot on the fly during class, study halls, and whenever opportunities presented themselves, the video was a tightly edited (okay, they accidentally showed the ending twice – but that aside!), well-paced, both funny and moving work, and the students looked justifiably proud of their efforts as the class applauded at the (real) ending.

It feels like we are officially in the iPad era of the school now. Never before had students done a script together for independent writing, and that may well be in part because never before have they been able to shoot and edit a video so quickly and instinctively. My prediction and hope had been that having iPads would enable us to greatly expand how we communicate with each other, and we seem to be started along that path now. Some students are rushing headlong down the path, others treading it more slowly and deliberately, but all are headed in the same direction. Yet, for many of us, there is also something timeless about books, real, books with covers and artwork and the smell and touch of paper. There’s a place, we realize, for every technology, from different ways of physically marking on surfaces (paint on cave walls, pen on paper, purple dry-erase markers on white boards, etc.) to books to cameras to computers and more. Different tools for different tasks.

Several weeks ago, I had planned to present the note-taking app “Notability” to my class, but on a hunch, I asked when we got to that point in my lesson plan, “Have any of you already tried Notability?” About six out of 14 had. “Do any of you feel confident enough to come up and show the rest of the class about it?” Several did, and we agreed Juliana and Elizabeth would come up. They borrowed my iPad and stood next to the TV, and systematically and thoroughly showed the students everything Notability could do and how to do it. There were some questions along the way, but the students had such a strong intuitive sense of what their classmates would understand that most of the questions that might have arisen were answered simply in how well the presentation went.

Dr. JoAnn Deak says the core elements of self-esteem in girls are confidence, competence, and connectedness. Our school’s mission statement is all about voice and being one’s own best self. That learning moment crystallized how we go about meeting our mission, and why we are so effective in doing so. Technology is a part of that – but as a means to an end. Never an end in itself.

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Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Technology, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

“Please join the faculty…” (part 1)

This was the title of a post in the Senior IB candidates’ blog for their Theory of Knowledge class. Their teacher, Alex Bogel, linked them to an article by Marc Prensky entitled “Our Brains Extended” which the faculty was reading over the summer. In the article, Mr. Prensky makes the point that “Technology… is an extension of our brains; it’s a new way of thinking.” He then poses the question, “Now that kids are routinely exposed to increasingly sophisticated information online, what’s an ‘age-appropriate’ curriculum? What subject matter from the past is still relevant, and for whom?” Finally, he suggests a vision for completely revamping the curriculum in our nation’s schools. He proposes organizing learning around four themes: effective thinking, effective action, effective relationships, and effective accomplishment. (Interestingly, these four themes integrate well with the fundamental philosophy of the IB curriculum, for example through the Creativity-Action-Service, or CAS, requirement.)

The students brought a wealth of knowledge and insight in their responses to Mr. Bogel’s posting. Here are six extracts from their work that, when juxtaposed, tell an interesting story of the students’ own visions for the role and potential influence of technology in their education.

I agree with the article about how [technology] is an extension of our lives it almost makes us super human. I also agree that we need to teach older and younger people that technology is great, but I don’t know if it is the BEST way because even though I may not love to read it is important to teach and be able to use. [Technology] is not the number one skill students need to take from school in order to succeed. Reading is the root of everything. – Jillian

I agreed with certain parts of the “Rethinking the Curriculum” section and linked the mathematics section with something my dad always told me. My dad always tells that real math is what goes on before we put our pencils on the paper. Real math is when you look at a problem and you figure out exactly what to do in order to solve it. Determining the numbers and values is just arithmetic. Math isn’t beautiful because we can add and subtract numbers; the numbers are just the tools we use to express mathematical ideas. – Karen

I really like the Effective Thinking, Acting and Relationships. In many ways this is what is happening at SBS, especially the effective thinking. I think that there is opportunity for the action and relationship aspects but they are not as out right or obvious to someone who is not aware of them. I think that these would enhance the SBS curriculum because they would make SBS an even more culturally aware and active school. Setting up programs with other schools around the world would make way for a new type of communication and connects for students and knowledge. – Elizabeth

I think our school should consider combining classes with teachers from around the world. I believe we need to move forward and make the future generations feel as though they are people of the world and not separated by distinctions. To create more global citizens, transnational cooperation is necessary. – Dorjee

I agree that the curriculum needs to be changed fundamentally, but I do not think that Marc Prensky’s emphasis on technology is as important as he made it seem. Technology definitely touches every aspect of our lives, but I think there must also be emphasis on learning through other outlets like music, art and nature. I have seen and experienced firsthand how technology can consume our thoughts and actually disconnect us from the people around us; so to put more emphasis on technology in schools we must first change the ways we use technology. The powerful connections that technology permits students like global communication must be treated more seriously if integrated into the curriculum. – Jane

Prensky’s curriculum suggestion seems like the most hard-to-apply concept in the article, mainly because it would involve an overhaul of the education system, and the agreement of town councilors everywhere on the fact that this is where our society is headed. If it’s a hard concept for me, a technology-addicted 17 year old to swallow, then you can bet that our current traditional education model isn’t going anywhere any time soon. – Caroline

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Filed under In the Classroom, International Baccalaureate

Where the Next Hour Takes Me

It’s been a productive day, and I’ve only just finished breakfast.

A member of the foreign language teachers listserve group (FLTeach) responded to an emailed post I’d made last week, giving me a chance to clarify my ideas and questions about the dual roles of cognitive learning and subconscious acquisition in learning languages.

I had recently locked in on the fact that information about language is stored in a different part of the brain than the part that enables us to interact using language. There is a long-standing schism among foreign language teachers over the proper roles of subconscious acquisition and conscious learning of languages for our students. I was attempting both to clarify the discussion by adding in this new information about the roles of different parts of the brain and to suggest that the question then becomes how best to ensure the information learned about a language gets connected to the part of a brain that enables a student to put that knowledge to work in automatic, instinctive language use.

After posting my listserve comments, I checked my MiddleWeb SmartBrief app and found a great article on a new school in Los Angeles that is using gaming to facilitate and individualize student learning. The notion that group interaction creates a shared context within which students acquire content through personalized learning paths fit well with the design of my Humanities 7 course, and I shared the article and that thought on Twitter. My friend, middle school teacher and math coach @theJLV [note: his postings may include strong language] shortly retweeted it. He has (for good reason) over 3500 followers, so that should be very helpful in spreading the word.

Meanwhile on Twitter, @teacherMRW and I continued our discussion about a recent poll showing that 4% of the country would never vote for a black person. I remembered the figure was 7% four years ago, and we discussed the implications of those figures not only for Black people but also for women (for whom 12% of the country would not have voted four years ago). (…) I would not be surprised if that conversation echoes in my Humanities 7 class one day soon.

Scanning my Twitter reader, I see that @FredBartels, a friend from Rye Country Day School, was tweeting about his macro-organism theory and one of the roles of individual people as neurons, giving me an aha! moment as I realized that just as people are part of multiple communities, they are part of multiple macro-organisms. Implications of that realization are still settling out.

All this happened in less than an hour. It provides a glimpse of how technology is enriching and deepening my life as a teacher. Yet the book I chose for faculty summer reading, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, argues persuasively and provocatively that the Internet, like it or not, is rewiring our brains and reorienting us away from deep, linear thought and more towards shallow thinking characterized by quick jumps from topic to topic.

In our discussion group during opening faculty meetings this fall, we acknowledged Mr. Carr’s points and talked about the need to support and develop in ourselves and our students the abilities to be fully in the present and to maintain focus for extended periods of time. We discussed the importance of non-linear thought and of developing creativity.

We talked about the need to support and develop in ourselves and our students the abilities to be fully in the present and to maintain focus for extended periods of time.

We also talked about the undeniable benefits of the Internet (which Mr. Carr acknowledges) and concluded that ultimately our goal is to help students use technology productively, recognizing both benefits and risks. Part of that, we agreed, would need to be helping them understand the additional stress that Internet use places on active working memory and the importance of following up properly to get information stored in long-term memory.

I am trying to apply those principles to my own life, and hope that this morning shows I’m on the right track. Meanwhile, I will quickly check my email to see if any students, parents, or colleagues have any questions for me, and then get dressed for a run. For me, running is a great way not just to stay fit and relieve stress but also to let my mind go and see what ideas percolate to the surface.

We’ll see where the next hour takes me.

(originally published at MiddleWeb. Republished with thanks to John Norton, editor.)

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School