Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now and When

When considering how technology changes the classroom it might be worth our while to consider how the classroom "looks" without the technology; create a kind of "before and after" picture in the mind to get a clearer sense of how the classroom is transformed. Cominius, a medieval Philosopher of education, believed it was important to know things but it was most important that we could put what we know to work.

The wall from classroom is filled with maps, pictures of writers and other important people, and artwork. If students just learn to recognize the maps and such without knowing about what is important about the maps and such and how to make use of that knowledge to enrich their daily lives these pictures on the wall are not worth much no matter how pleasing they are to the eye.

This is a value of the iPad (or any piece of technology that enables students to read, write, and research from their desks). Students can explore instantaneously what piques their curiosity and curiosity is the teacher's best friend. Students may think to lookup these things later, but, just like most of their teachers, when they leave the room and the images no longer exert their influence, students are likely to forget to check these things out.

Today I asked students to look at the quotes, pictures, maps, and posters and select one to investigate. They then used their iPads to investigate their selection. If, for example, they selected the travel poster for the South Seas they may want to investigate the South Seas. They are then to report back on what they found especially meaningful to them about that which they investigated. I am hoping students select something that truly captures their imaginations as curiosity and excitement improve retention. In the poster on my wall (the same as the poster to the right) I think the airplane, the geography, and the water, among other things, very attractive. Those with an interest in business might be curious about Pan Am Airlines and what has become of it. There might be a lesson there for future entrepreneurs. We have also been trying to figure out ways to send documents back and forth and experimented with apps called Catch and Move with a modicum of success. We are continuing to work on this problem, but have not as yet hit upon a satisfactory solution.

The video is about schools and creativity. Its contention is that schools discourage creativity, that they place the focus on certain kinds of intelligence to the exclusion of others. It is important to know things, but it is also important to imagine ways that what we know can be put to work to shape our world and our futures. Often school is about studying the past and understanding the present. But our students will be living in the future and it is important that they consider how the things they learn in school can shape that future. If all they learn is skills without developing the imagination to see how those skills can be used to shape a more meaningful existence, has their education served them well? Education should be concerned not just with developing skills and learning information; it should also be about developing wisdom, intelligences, and an active imagination.

Technology can take us in many directions. We can learn the nuts and bolts of it, how to fix it,how to use it, and how to improve it. This is all very useful and necessary. But we should also be considering how the technology shapes our lives, for the better and for the worse, and where the technology can take us. If the technology is to be used effectively to make our futures more meaningful and pleasant we need to think carefully about its potential use and misuse, but also about its power as a tool of creativity and the imagination.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sheepskins, Goose Quills, iPads, and Such

The picture is of medieval students using sheepskin and goose quills, the iPads of their day. This suggests the technology is always changing and each generation has something new to learn. The tool does not solve the problem of learning, skills and materials must still be mastered. The technology provides the tools each generation will use to gain the knowledge and master the skills of the age it occupies. Education is always about the student and learning. Many things do not change. As an English teacher I know it is the student, not the iPad that must do the writing; it is the student, and not iBooks or Kindle, that must do the reading.

The video is about doodling and how this "art form" is misundstood. Some of what my students do with their new iPads is really just doodling, but I think it is the doodling Sunni Brown is talking about. They are playing with ideas and using the fooling around that they do to discover things. They are also using the iPads to struggle with wikis and other online tools that have not fully caught up to what current changes in technology require of them if students are to use them effectively. Give the student a stylus and the iPad becomes more and more like vellum.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doing Stuff with iPads

Using an iPad in the classroom presents certain challenges. How do students submit work? How is the work graded and returned, especially if the the decision to use the iPad was made in part to reduce the amount of paper passing back and forth in the classroom?

There is an excitement for the students on first using the iPad and the enjoy fooling around with it, but they gravitate towards entertainment. The first apps my students downloaded were games. But they also enjoy exploring what they can do with it and how they put it to work accomplishing various tasks, academic and otherwise. The first things we did with the iPad in the classroom was comment on things we read using Paperplane Notes. The students sent me their comments and observations and I returned their notes to them with grades. The Paperplane Notes app lets students submit work to me confidentially and for me to return them with grades and comments with the same confidentiality. We also used the Safari app to work on assignments in the class Wiki. Students could edit Wiki documents and save them to the Wiki. I used the project feature in WikiSpaces to enable each group to have a space that was uniquely theirs so that other students in other groups could not inadvertantly interfere or damage the group's work.

There is much that can be done that enables students to communicate with more than just words that lets them demonstrate their understanding of a concept while working with less conventional materials.