Monthly Archives: February 2014

Life-Tech Fit

Our Blog topic for this week focuses on the never ending debate on technology in the classroom. I emitted a very LARGE sigh when I read this, because I have been knee deep in this debate for a couple of years now. The topic of debate this time, however, is not centered around ”Play vs Tech”, but whether the technology we are using in class is contributing to the deterioration or development of student attention.

 In 2012, the PEW Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project released a study titled, How Teens Do Research in the Digital World.  This study focused on teenagers and their research habits, but part of the survey asked for teachers’ views towards the broader impact of technology on their students. Out of 2500 teacher, “77% thought that the internet had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on students’ research work”. (Jefferies) Yet, despite this positive impact, “87% felt modern technologies were creating an “easily distracted generation with ‘short attention spans’.” (Jefferies) I confess I did not read the very long study by the PEW Centre, but from what I scanned, I noticed that these teachers were not referring to technology in the classrooms as the reason for the “short attention spans”. Perhaps, just perhaps, the lack of life-tech fit is the reason behind the attention deterioration. (Life-tech fit in my world is the ability to turn off the tech, and go have face to face contact, be in nature, clean the house. It is the ability to “balance” the instant gratification of tweeting, updating, instagramming with the long, drawn out process of being in the moment.)

 I look at the technology being used in the classrooms I have access to, and I have to say that I don’t believe it is deteriorating student attention. I see teachers using what we have to help inform students, aid in problem solving, assess knowledge and skills, and learn how to use technology in a respectful manner. In the article, Texting, TV and Tech Trashing Children’s Attention Spans, Ellen Galinsky refers to a teacher (Hope Molina-Porter) interviewed by the New York Times, regarding Ms. Molina-Porter’s altering of her teaching style to keep the attention of her learners. Ms. Galinsky has, in my opinion, the best answer to this perceived attention deterioration and it is “to teach children to pay attention and to be persistent!” In that vein, I see teachers who try to fit technology into their day as a learning tool.  These teachers, however, are still doing group projects, arts afternoons, science labs and many more activities where students are learning HOW to pay attention and HOW to regulate themselves so they can persist at a task.

 I firmly believe that we, as teachers, need to teach our students how to use this technology responsibly and respectfully. We also have to teach them though, when to turn the technology off, and to collaborate, communicate, create and to push through when things are difficult or challenging. As James P. Steyer said after releasing his organization’s study on children and digital media (Galinsky) “This survey is yet another reminder of how critical it is to consistently guide our kids to make good media choices and balance the amount of time they spend with any media and all of their other activities.”  

 I suppose this very wordy post needs an answer to the original debate topic. Do I think technology in the classroom will contribute to the deterioration of students attention OR help students attention for learning? After all of my pondering and reading, I think it will help student attention because I believe we will continue to use the technology as a tool fo better understanding, not as a digital behaviour plan or classroom management system.




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From Kimonos to Times Tables

We have been asked to discuss a learning experience that was highly memorable. I have had a lot of them in my education, and I have tried to create some for my students. When I was 6, my teacher taught us about Japan. Japan was not in the curriculum for Grade 1 back then, but we were discussing who we were and our families. My teacher was Japanese and brought in her childhood kimono for the girls to wear, and a traditional outfit for the boys. She discussed the fabric and the shoes, and she let every single one of us try it on. I remember her cooking Japanese rice for us, and discussing the differences between Japanese and “Canadian” food. We were allowed to touch her dolls, try “her” foods, and we learnt about who she was. When I think back to that teacher and that experience, I believe she had a large part in my wanting to become a teacher.

My Grade 1 teacher, and many others, provided me with some very memorable learning experiences. If I could list them all, I would find some common themes, among them the idea of meaningful learning. As Ormrod writes in Essentials of Education, “In contrast to rote learning, meaningful learning involves recognizing a relationship between new information and something already stored in long-term memory.” Growing up, I was given many opportunities to explore and experience in order to learn, and I believe those things are key in learning today. I look at the titles of the “Strategies” Ormrod lists and describes in the selection, and I see many of the things I try to do in my classroom. Many of these strategies need to be used with my young learners, as well as with my ELL learners. The strategies of “Relate new ideas to students’ prior knowledge and experiences”, “Accommodate diversity in students’ background knowledge” and “Facilitate visual imagery” are important in any lesson or experience I provide for my learners. They often require pictures or objects to understand new vocabulary, and many have their own experiences about the vocabulary to share. Even Ormrod’s strategy for assessing the learners’ understanding may require them to use visual imagery. Another of Ormrod’s strategies, “Provide experiences on which students can build” resonated with me.. The example of seeing a life-size dinosaur at a museum aiding in a student’s understanding, reminded me of using our school grounds to try and do a scale model of the size of the solar system. The students gained much more understanding of the distances between the planets by measuring, rather than just reading it in a book.

Don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of times in my education where “Rote Learning” was used. The multiplication tables were chanted out daily, and although I can recall them, I didn’t truly understand them until a professor at UVic realized I had no knowledge of what multiplication meant. In Chapter 4 of Dirksen’s book, Design for How People Learn, she writes “Using pure memorization to grind something into a learner’s brain is the equivalent of building really thick walls-yes, it works, but it takes a lot of resources, and it’s a clunky solution.” My inability to recall a single formula from Physics 11 or Math 11 demonstrates to me that the rote learning didn’t work. That UVic Professor giving me blocks to create “groups of” for multiplication stuck with me though.

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Time to Regenerate

Once again, I am tasked with answering a question that I am not sure I know the answer to. I am struggling to find my “why”. My apologies if this post rambles or jumps, but I am determined to try and make some sense of this question, “Why learn Learning Design?”

From what I have read and seen so far, I like the idea of Learning Design. In the beginning of January, I read the course outline and made a leap of assumption that Learning Design was akin to unit planning. I think my brain still holds that view. I am a graduate from UVic Education, and we were taught how to plan a unit. We went through process after process to show that we knew how the progression of lessons should go. I can look back at my large plans full of outcomes, resources, activities, and assessments painstakingly penciled in, ready to be used when needed. I look at my understanding of learning design and see similarities between it and unit planning. I may be off base by a mile, but that is how I see it.

So, why learn Learning Design? The more I sit and ponder what to say and how to write what I know in my gut, the harder it is for me to put on paper.

I know how to plan. I know how to use my dramatic sense of being to grab a child’s interest. I know that play is the most important tool I can use with my students. I know that I am creative, and most of the time, willing to take a risk. If you take all of that, and toss it into a big ole pot you get my “why”. The planning of my past is incomplete for 2014. It needs an upgrade. It needs to reach the students of this era differently, and it needs to encompass what I now believe in for my students. The plans I made in my past do not follow the philosophy I now hold. I need to learn how to change the “how” of my teaching while questioning the “why” I am teaching it. As Doctor Who says, “Life depends on change and renewal.” I see that I need to change and renew my practice to stay current and to regenerate into a better, more effective facilitator of learning.

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