Digital Students in the Traditional Classroom

David Warlick asks some very good questions based on the inescapable fact that our students are coming to school this fall with all manner of digital communications devices. However, rather than using these tools to connect the kids to the world, most schools will put a lot of effort into limiting their use.

It’s not working. Our schools are leaking. The attention of the kids is leaking out of the container into the real world and we need to decide what to do about it.

If we decide to embrace and use these communications tools, David asks some very relevant questions about what the newly connected classroom should looks like.

* Do textbooks go away? No, textbooks can lay open beside of a laptop, or textmessaging mobile phone (though I suspect that textbooks will be evolving into something else).
* Do we abandon our classroom and go exclusively online? No, though I suspect that we may be able to teach our children better by spending less time in the classroom and more time working and playing the information outside the classroom.
* Do we still need teachers with a teacher’s desk, chalk board, and pointer? Yes, though the chalkboard must change as must the pointer. However, our definition of what a teacher does will change from that of delivering skills and content, to that of creating and crafting experiences through which students will learn to teach themselves.
* Will the class bell go away? No, but study hall and homework are going to become something entirely different.
* Will college training for teachers change? Yes, but more important than that, the job of being a teacher will also be that of being a student. We will learn constantly, and each day, we will share with our students something that we have just learned.

I disagree with some of his answers (in italics).

Textbooks should go away, at least in the static, hardbound form they now take. The information should be online, dynamic, and editable by both teacher and student. School bells for the most part must also disappear. They are artificial delimiters on the amount of time that should be spent in any one activity.

He is exactly right, however, about teachers assuming the role of students. If we are ever going get our students to be "life-long learners" (read the mission statement of most schools), teachers must model the process and not preach it.

They also must learn to incorporate the same communication tools used by their students (largely for recreation) into their teaching and learning. The longer the process takes, the less relevant school as we know it becomes.

20th Century Communications Tools

Around here we’re still a couple weeks away from school opening and it’s the usual late-August race to get everything ready. From the questions and requests for help we’ve been getting, one of the big tasks seems to be cleaning up the school web site.

Many of the tech trainers we work with in the schools have been handed this job ("other duties as assigned"), what our overly large school system calls "web curator". It’s actually a very appropriate title since many school, and central office, sites are updated as often as most museums.

However, that’s not the fault of the curators. They haven’t been given any modern tools for accomplishing the task.

We continue to use the gatekeeper system for web publishing, meaning that one and only one person in a school has access to the web server and all content must go through them. The result, of course, is that even a simple update is a pain to accomplish.

Don’t even mention the possibility of hosting a blog or a wiki. Depending on which IT person you ask, the open source software that run those tools is either a security risk or unstable. RSS? That technology eats up too many server resources. Students posting content? You must be kidding!

So, we begin another school year using web publishing tools from the previous century. And few opportunities for teachers and students to communicate with the world.

Although there could be other paths to take. Right? :-)

It’s About Time

A few posts back I was ranting about time and how more of it was not necessarily a good thing for school reform. An outstanding essay in this month’s Edutopia Magazine picks up on that same theme, looking at how our inefficient allegiance to traditional educational time has stagnated any hope of school reform.

This snippet from the article is an excellent summary of the problems.

Unyielding and relentless, the time available in a uniform 6-hour day and 180-day year is the unacknowledged design flaw in American education. By relying on time as the metric for school organization and curriculum, we have built a learning enterprise on a foundation of sand, on five premises educators know to be false.

These include

* the assumption that students arrive at school ready to learn in the same way, on the same schedule, all in rhythm with each other.
* the notion that academic time can be used for nonacademic purposes with no effect on learning.
* the pretense that because yesterday’s calendar was good enough for us, it should be good enough for our children — despite major changes in the larger society.
* the myth that schools can be transformed without giving teachers the time they need to retool themselves and reorganize their work.
* the new fiction that it is reasonable to expect world-class academic performance from our students within the time-bound system that is already failing them.

These five assumptions are a recipe for a kind of slow-motion social suicide.

No Child Left Behind – and most other reform efforts – are built around the assumption that our educational system can be improved by rearranging things within the current time structure. That’s crap!

It’s time to throw out the old agrarian calendar. Drop the idea that every child learns at the same pace. And certainly trash the concept that teacher planning and training should be done on their own time.

Without major changes to the way we manage time in education, no amount of testing and penalties will improve teaching and learning. It just won’t happen.

Side note: If you aren’t already reading Edutopia, you should be. And it’s free! Go to the web site and subscribe.

Million Dollar Challenge

Xeni at Boing Boing has uncovered at least one guy even more science- challenged than W and "dr." Frist. She did it by spotlighting a fast-growing new religion called Pastafarianism who’s followers worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Read all about it in the newly-minted entry on the subject at the Wikipedia.

Now supporters of FSM are offering a one million dollar prize to anyone who can "produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster". The challenge does come with this disclaimer: "Prize to be awarded with Intelligently Designed currency; void where prohibited by logic."

Since logic doesn’t work with the bozos who support this "intelligent" design crap, is it possible some excellent satire will?

Probably not. We lack any evidence they have a sense of humor.