Thursday, May 31, 2012
To make online research a little easier for students I added the "Dunno" app to their iPads. This app searches the Internet for articles on areas of interest identified by the student. It does a Google type search, but it seems to be a bit more focused than Google. It also saves the articles it finds under the name of the search, so that students can, if they need to, revisit the sources of the information they have found. The app integrates, sort of, features of Google with features of Diigo. I also placed a link on my web page to instagrok. Instagrok is another web resource that aids in searching the web. It provides a mind map of sorts on a topic so that students can explore more easily sources of information related to the subject of their original search. So, for example, if you enter Geoffrey Chaucer you get a big Chaucer bubble in the middle with little bubbles surrounding the "big bubble" that link to such topics as Petrarch, England, and Middle English, among others. Many of the links will have many of the shortcomings of many web research sites, but the resource offers what can be an effective way to begin doing research on a topic.
The video focuses on the lengths to which some will go to recover an important piece of knowledge. It also talks about the importance of making manuscripts and texts, classical and othwise, available to those that need or desire to study them. It may be that at some point in the future the profit motive and the needs of good scholarship will reconcile themselves. We all need to make a living and that is often done by one person selling something to another person. But the interests of education and learning are often frustrated by the price tag that accompanies the enterprise. I think the nation and the world benefit by making knowledge and learning as available as possible, making it possible for those with the ability, interest, and motivation to learn to learn in an affordable way. Still, it is difficult to not be amazed by the work done by those working with the Archimedes Palimpsest. Perhaps the view of the curator of the the Walters Art Museum will prevail and other museums and libraries will make their manuscripts more available to the general public. But even if they do not, I think there is value in considering the zeal, the curiosity, the love of ancient things, and the love of sharing knowledge that motivated these scholars and scientists and their work.
Monday, May 21, 2012
The video is about building confidence. I do not know how many of us have the talent or the latent ability to become great artists. My guess is that not many of us do. But all of us have wells of creativity that enable us to bring insights to problems others do not have and bring a depth of imagination to what we do. Most I have talked to who teach the arts, theater, music, painting, etc. say that it is often not their most talented students that go on to achieve success at that art but the most driven. Many of the most talented have more than one interest or do not have confidence in their ability to succeed. For those with multiple interests it is probable that the interest they pursued gave them as much or more satisfaction as pursuing the arts would have given. But those that do not pursue a thing because they lack confidence are the ones I think it is most important to reach, because their futures can be changed for the better. A goal of life is to find that job, that vocation that in the doing of it we find pleasure, joy, and satisfaction; a career that involves more than killing time while waiting for time to kill us.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
As an English teacher I want students to read at different levels of understanding. I will be more successful with some students than with others, but the goal is to get all students as deeply into the texts we study as I can and to encourage them to write as cogently, analytically, and imaginatively as I can. The first goal is to get students to read for the literal meanings of the words. As a stand alone text what do the words communicate. The next step is to encourage students to explore the historical and cultural factors that influenced the texts. Next I would like students to consider the larger ramifications of characters and themes; that is to what extent are these characters and themes archtypal. The last level I would like students to consider is the ends of things. What are the ends that these characters are making for themselves, and what are the implications of the themes of the story to the future of that story, and to the future of those reading the story.
There are real and fatal consequences for the stands these characters take. But these characters none-the-less behave in ways that are not only courageous, but also exemplary, they represent the way people of integrity ought to act in such situations. Finally we see the end to which Proctor's choices are leading him and how these ends are inevitable. We also see the consequences of the court's behavior for the community at large. One of the roles of tragedy is to restore order to a troubled community. The behavior and death of Proctor ultimately result in a restoration of order to the community.
The technology used properly can guide students trough these layers and help them discover them and their significance on their own. Of course the students must still bring something to the table, they have to make an honest attempt to engage the material, because as already stated, the mind will not retain what it is coerced to learn. And if the material is only pursued because an instructor has forced them to make the pursuit, it is not likely to have much staying power, it is not likely to escape the bonds of short term memory.
Students can, though, be guided through a search of the history and culture of Puritan New England and 1950's America. Students can be pointed towards characters from mythology, folklore, and literature that share many of Proctor's character traits and then reflect on the significance of these similarities across the literature. Students can blog on and discuss the consequences of the play for the characters in the play and the implications of these consequences in their, the students' own lives. But at the end of the day we need to consider our "line of vision." Where are we trying to go, what are we trying to accomplish, how do we best serve the ends we trying to achieve? How do I, as an English teacher, entice students to take the academic journey and reap the rewards the journey can bring.
The video clip is a lighthearted look at one of the more frequent frustrations of working with the technology. It is important to remember the technology is not foolproof nor without its annoyances and aggravations. It helps to bring a sense of humor to the enterprise and to not take things too seriously when they do not go as expected. Putting an iPad or a computer into the hands of every student will not accomplish much if those who teach them have not been effectively trained in how to use the technology. They need to be versed enough and experienced enough with the technology's shortcomings and frustrations that they can make light of them and encourage students to persevere when things do not go as expected. Any tool is only as good as those using the tool and those that teach others how to use a tool need to be well versed in the many uses of the tool but, more importantly, well versed in the tools many shortcomings. Failure is an important adjunct to success and we all need to learn to shape what does not work into something productive and useful. Some ask, "why reinvent the wheel?" But society does not really move forward until all the wheels, all those things we say "if it ain't broken don't fix it" about, are reinvented. Progress begins with looking differently at everything we have taken for granted.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The Feynman Technique to Learn Things Faster. I have always believed, as have most teachers I have known, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. The Feynman technique provides a very simple formula for learning by teaching. There are four simple steps: write down the topic, pretend you are teaching it to someone else by writing down the steps, go back to the book when you get stuck, and simplify the language by putting it into your own words. If you can actually find someone to teach the topic to, you will probably achieve mastery fairly quickly (depending a bit on how patient the "students" are and how willing they are to let you return to the book when they ask you a question that leaves you perplexed. But in the process of teachg you find out where the holes in your knowledge are and learn what needs to be done to fill those holes. It is important to remember that eveyone's knowledge has holes, and it is especially important that students see where the holes in our knowledge are because the best teaching technique is to show others what we do when we encounter a question we cannot answer, when we are confronted with something we should know but do not know. Much of effective teaching is transparency, letting students see how we learn and wrestle with difficult problems. The most important thing to learn is never the answer, but the practices to employ when an answer needs to be found and how those practices are put to work and how effectively they produce results. This is what students need to discover if they are to ever learn how to teach themselves.
I have enjoyed Rube Goldberg machines from the moment I was first introduced to them. As a child I loved the game Mouse Trap. I do not remember how it was played, what the rules were, or even the point of the mouse trap to the game, but I loved watching the trap being sprung. I think fully understanding a Rube Goldberg machine requires an appreciation of the laws of physics, the relationships of the parts to one another, and the absurdity of the job it does. Behind every machine is a kind of satiric commentary on the "age of machines" and satire is a literary concern. There is a manipulation the laws of physics and objects in motion, which is a scientific concern. The history of the Rube Goldberg machine follows the history of industrialization and pokes fun at a human fascination with machines, which is a cultural, historical, and sociological concern, all branches of social studies. Sometimes a bit of comic fun can provide an opening to some serious study.