Monday, April 13, 2009

Lesson Implementation Plan

While attending a Discovery Educators workshop last fall, I was introduced to an excellent teacher resource called "Discovery Streaming". With it, I have been finding content relevant video clips that I embed into Powerpoint presentations and show to my students. I use Powerpoint to compliment my lectures because I think that the digital component is particularly attractive to this generation of students, and I think helps appeal to a variety of learning styles, both visual and auditory. I really like incorporating the video clips from Discovery Streaming because they are generally short (the length can be edited) and they serve to help to break up the monotony of the notes.

In the midst of playing around with Discovery Streaming, I came across a link within the site called Teacher Center, which has an "assignment builder" feature. This tool allows the teacher to create a web-based assignment that automatically incorporates teacher-selected links to Discovery Streaming resources, such as video clips and websites. Ultimately, the assignment can be printed, saved as an MS Word document, or accessed as an HTML from a link provided by Discovery Streaming.

The assignment I created through Discovery Streaming's assignment builder is a technologically-enhanced adaptation of a project I developed two years ago for my Integrated Science class. Before, I would distribute hard-copies of newspaper articles to my students, and have them read about the debate over Pluto's classification as a planet in our solar system. With Discovery Streaming's assignment builder, the students now have access to a variety of articles online, as well as relevant video clips. Better still, the entire assignment completely self-contained and can be accessed from any internet-capable device, so students do not necessarily have to be at school to complete their work. The assignment can be extended by adding a writing component, such as a persuasive essay, or can be the lead-in to a class-wide debate.

To view the assignment online, click Pluto: Planet or Not?

Chapter 3: Tools

I really appreciate the section in Chapter 3 about Web 2.0 tools. In spite of the fact that I have spent the past few months intensively familiarizing myself with modern technology jargon, Chapter 3 (specifically pages 55-70) serves as a very helpful resource in clarifying and classifying some of the most recurrent Web 2.0 terminology. I consider myself fairly comfortable in recognizing the subtle differences, for example, between a wiki and a ning, or a blog and a social-networking site like FaceBook. However, I doubt that I would be able to identify and describe these differences with as much coherence to someone who has less experience with mainstream internet applications.

As an analogy, during a lecture about gas laws in my chemistry class, I asked the students to explain to me the concept of temperature. Their initial look of confidence soon faded as they realized that such an everyday concept did not have such an easy explanation. Certainly they were all familiar with the word “temperature”, and they all had experience with it -- they knew that they could use a thermometer to take the temperature of something, and that they had felt the relative temperature between something hot and something cold. But when I asked them to explain to me what a thermometer really measures, they balked. When thinking about the real science behind temperature, all of the sudden it became not so obvious what caused a thermometer to read differently when placed in a glass of warm water versus a glass of cold water.

That is the beauty of Chapter 3 in Web 2.0: new tools, new schools; these terms that sound so familiar, but become somewhat nebulous when you are asked to explain them, or compare them to each other, are defined and described with excellent clarity. Additionally, the book provides loads of example websites for each different Web 2.0 category. As someone who hopes to motivate his colleagues to get on board for the digital education revolution, Chapter 3 of this book will come in handy as a reference tool for both myself and my fellow tech-savvy teachers.

In case you’re still on the edge of your seat about the temperature story, temperature is the measure of kinetic energy (motion) of the molecules of a substance.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chapter 9: New Schools

This chapter really nails progressive thinking as an overarching theme. These days, too much of the thinking we do, and the changes we make, are all reactionary. Technology in the classroom is an excellent present-day example. Only now, finally, are we recognizing the global society’s dependence on technology. As a direct result, actions are being taken, and efforts are being made to implement change; i.e. more computers in schools, programs teaching/promoting digital literacy, curriculum-centered applied technology. For as much I appreciate these efforts, and concur with their necessity, I also feel as though the focus itself may be a bit misguided, or perhaps is left too open to misinterpretation. I think technology needs to be taught -- to both teachers and students alike -- for the sake of developing familiarity, comfortability, and technological fluency amongst its users. Just as in my classroom, I am less concerned about students knowing (things like facts), and much more concerned about students understanding (things like concepts). For example, knowing and reciting Newton’s Three Laws of Motion is, for all intents and purposes, useless. On the other hand, understanding the laws of motion, and being able to apply the concepts to a real-life situation is far more valuable. Likewise, it is beneficial to introduce technology to teachers/students, moreso as an investment, with the hopes that their relationship with technology grows and expands.

The Raven About Web 2.0 class is a perfect example of this. From a short-term perspective, the 23 “things” provide an opportunity to explore and become familiar with a wide variety of Web 2.0 tools. Educators can then incorporate these tools into their curricula as they see fit. Hopefully though, the educator’s connection with technology does not end with the 23 things. From a long-term perspective, exposure to and experience with the 23 things establishes a working relationship between technology and the educator, and he/she will continue to pursue and incorporate newer, more progressive technologies long after the original Web 2.0 tools have become outdated and obsolete.

Also, because it was mentioned in Chapter 9 (pg. 187), I thought I’d put in my two cents: unlimited broadband access across the United States is long overdue.

Chapter 7: Online Safety and Security

The “Acceptable Use” internet agreement that the Anchorage School District requires that every student sign is wholly ineffective. Well, from the district’s standpoint, it is very effective in absolving them from any kind of legal responsibility, if a student were to breach the contract. But with very few exceptions, the students who sign these internet-use agreements neither know what the agreement says, nor what they are agreeing to. Furthermore, the internet-use agreement does nothing to gauge or raise the students’ awareness of online threats. With technology being such an integral part of society, and the internet serving as our primary source for information, it is vital that students be informed about potential internet dangers, and accordingly, legal matters concerning the internet such as copyright laws.

I am of the very strong opinion that schools need to place a much heavier emphasis on not only incorporating technology in the classroom, but teaching technology as well. Inevitably, all things scholastic will at some point become digital. This is evidenced already by the number of online classes available at every level of education. Textbooks, lessons, assignments -- they can, and will, all be done electronically. In light of this, it is imperative that some curriculum time be set aside to introduce students to the technology they will be using. Accordingly, students must then be educated about online safety and security. With time being devoted to using the technology itself, time too, must be devoted to teaching things like cyber-safety, copyright law, appropriate use, etc.

The biggest impediment that I can foresee is that as educational technology is further incorporated into the classroom, either the school day/year is going to require an extension, or existing curricula are necessarily going to need to be replaced. While there will likely be a public outcry against lengthening the amount of time in the classroom, school districts nationwide will no doubt struggle to decide which areas of current educational model are outdated and need to take a backseat to technology.

Chapter 1: New World, New Web, New Skills

I think the American educational institution is in need of some direction. Students from the United States are repeatedly being outperformed by students from countries all over the world, and I think this is due, at least in part, to the fact that there is no real agreement as to the purpose of education. Ironically, wholesale decisions about our national education system are made by bureaucrats who are themselves far removed from the classroom. Regardless of their personal philosophies, educators are urged, and in some cases mandated, to teach rote facts that are easily quantifiable by standardized tests. In order to teach effectively, one must not only know what and how to teach, but must also address why it is being taught. Is the purpose of education to train students to regurgitate facts on a series of multiple-choice tests, or it is to equip them with the skills necessary to both function in contemporary society, as well as further advance and progress that society into the future? At the very least, I agree with the authors of Web 2.0: new tools, new schools in that “education has to focus on the skills and abilities that students will need if the next generation is to remain competitive in the changing world” (pg. 9).

In the face of the discovery of the Kuiper Belt object known then as 2003 UB 313, in August 2006 the scientific community had to come to grips with the fact that no one had ever really developed an agreed-upon working definition for the word “planet”. As a result, debates that had raged for centuries about the classification of certain objects in our solar system at last had to be officially addressed. The advancement of technology in the field of astronomy and astrophysics forced the astronomy community to sit down and definitively decide on a list of characteristics that would classify an object as a “planet”. The most notable outcome is the reclassification (some would argue “demotion”) of Pluto to “plutoid” status -- Pluto is now otherwise referred to as a “dwarf planet”.

Similar to this, our nation -- everyone from government officials and teachers, to parents and students -- needs to be in agreement as to the purpose of education. Regardless of whether or not the powers that be still dictate what teachers must teach, at least everyone will be aware of why it is being taught.