Learning while Teaching

Like most of my fellow-teacher candidates, blogging was an activity that was hard to keep up with during my teaching block (or more specifically, impossible in my case). Now that I’ve finished up block one, it seems most appropriate that I use this post as an opportunity to express some important discoveries I’ve had over the past 4 weeks.

First, theory is a(n extremely) poor substitute for experience.
As much as I’ll enjoy the reprieve from the chaos of marking and lesson planning, I expect I’ll be rather skeptical of some things that I learn in teacher’s college now.
Much of what was explained, taught and ingrained into my mind over the seven weeks leading up to block 1, was completely debunked in a matter of days at my school AND what I learned that *was* useful, didn’t really sink in until I experienced why.

Second, despite the thrill of teaching and helping two classes of grade 10 science students, I found myself disappointed at the “traditional” quality of my lessons. With all that’s required of student teachers in terms of meeting the University’s lesson planning requirements, I found myself with only enough time to gather all the material together and make *a lesson.* Engagement, different activities and new tools, were something I did not have the luxury of time to consider.
What is the point of lesson planning in detail to the nth degree if it completely prevents you from making a *good* lesson?

Finally, a revelation that I think most of us always knew but never really understood in specific terms: at the STAO conference in Toronto, I was at a session on “Why Good Students Fail” (in university). Why do students who excel in high school, go to university and see their science grade drop 30-60 percent? The speaker, Dr. David C. Stone from the University of Toronto, said the difference he sees between the students who do well in university and those who don’t has next to nothing to do with their marks.
What’s really important is their study skills. The little section on report cards that gets graded with “E” for excellent, “S” for satisfactory etc., gives a true indication of a graduating student’s future, even though parents, students (and even teachers) tend not to pay it much heed. Students who can make good notes, review them, elaborate on them and summarize them are the ones who tend to have an easier time. Those who study a little bit regularly as opposed to doing a marathon over a couple days tend to have better long term recall. Being able to problem solve at a “formal operational level” (as explained by Jean Piaget) is important to succeeding in the sciences as well but even many adults never get there.
So as a teacher, while marks are why get my students *into* university, their study habits are what will take them *through* it. What I teach and assess ought to be aimed at improving these things, no?

Renaissance, Industrialism, ADHD and Education

I don’t have an awful lot to say this time.
I just came across a really neat…cartoon? It’s called an RSAnimate. This particular one uses a talk by Sir Ken Robinson which is accompanied by whiteboard animations to help illustrate his points.
Robinson makes some very intriguing points about the education we have and how we need to start thinking about it.
Enjoy! (And think!)

21st Century Learners: Refugees or VIPs?

Where there is talk of educational reform, support for technology in the classroom is usually part of the discussion. With all the new tools available to a teacher and the pressure for teacher’s to ‘engage’ their students in more powerful ways, it’s easy to blindly accept that catering to students is the answer.
Use movies, pictures, clickers, internet, even cell phones, just, whatever you do, don’t make them sit and think.
I am likely exaggerating the argument but I think that often, this is the message that gets across.
Rodd Lucier incited a discussion on just this topic following his Blog entry “Redefining the 21st Century Learner”. He suggested that the term “21st century learner” was a poor title because it reflects the failed attempt to get teachers to modify their methods for this new era. Instead, he proposed the term “refugee” because, he argues, students who are used to being connected, plugged in and turned on outside of school, are practically being forced to speak a different language and learn in a different country when they have to disconnect and shut down for class.

To be fair, I believe Mr. Lucier is lamenting the outdated ‘chalk and talk’ practices of many teachers that even they themselves wouldn’t sit through willingly. I feel, however, that there is a danger in rushing to the opposite extreme and turning the classroom into an ‘electric playground.’ There has to be a balance.
Particularly at older grades, learning what real life is like, is especially important. In real life, you don’t always get an answer right away, you have responsibilities (not just rights) and sometimes the important things don’t have flashy additions to make them more interesting. One comment spoke of a girl who recently lost her job after being warned, several times, not to use Facebook at work. If our goal, our focus, is just to do whatever it takes to keep our students from having to put any effort into paying attention or learning, then what good are we really doing? How will they be ready for the real world, or even university?

Patience, responsibility, determination and focus are all very easy when life is fun. When life makes us wait, calls on us, gives us a hard task or is boring… what then?

Motivation: Where do you get it?

During my second year of University I took an into-psych course that I learned a great deal from. I don’t mean all the information I crammed in for the final exam, I mean valuable, lessons about the nature of people.
One thing in particular that really informed my opinions about being a teacher was the nature of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. If you do something for the sake of the satisfaction and fulfillment you get out of it naturally, that’s called intrinsic motivation. Because your focus is on the act, it becomes something you will continually enjoy doing. If, on the other hand, you do something for a reward which is promised to you upon completion, that’s called extrinsic motivation and it very quickly destroys any positive feelings you had about what you were doing.
The textbook we used in that psych class provided the example of a father who’s son had just taken up guitar. Although his son already enjoyed it, the father thought he’d ‘solidify’ that by telling him he would pay him for every new song he learned. It wasn’t long before the son was playing for the money and he soon gave up on guitar all together.

On Cool Cat Teacher Blog, Vicki Davis touched on this idea and referenced a man who has strong opinions about it. Alfie Khon, who I know very little about, believes that education has gotten its motivation from the wrong place. If the question were put to him, I imagine he would agree that it had become a very extrinsic experience.

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We become motivated by marks, and approval, losing our natural curiosity and desire to learn. Could this be why so many kids have such a poor opinion of school? Maybe the drive to earn grades has drained away the joy of learning itself?
While we look to the future with optimism about all the changes we can make to improve the education system, lets not forget this problem. And while we’re at it, lets put some of our new resources towards dealing with this issue: how can we use new technologies (texting, tweeting, blogs, computers, internet) to foster true, unadulterated curiosity in our students?

Is Asking the new Teaching?

Can students teach themselves without the help of the ever-present fountain of knowledge, their teacher, there to correct their mistakes and provide them with the final “right answer”?
In his blog, The Clever Sheep (thecleversheep.blogspot.com), Rodd Lucier features an ‘experimental’ educator named Sugatra Mitra who has shown, around that world, that students can and will organize themselves to seek out an answer for a problem that they have been confronted with, when given the correct tools. In particular, Mitra provides computers and the internet as those tools.

The video (from ted.com as Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education) has sparked a lot of debate about whether or not this is a viable way to learn. Many argue that the students are just acquiring information and not really learning how to apply it. Some say that being able to provide the information, when they were asked for it in a language that is not their own, certainly shows real learning.

I believe that there are valid points on both sides and the real success of this kind of learning comes down to the teacher. In such a situation, the teacher (as seen in the video) becomes an ‘asker’ of questions, whose job is to know what the right question is: one which immediately hooks the curiosity of the student and dares them to do something about it.

Are the kids ready?

It seems that enough good cannot be said about the use of technology in the classroom. It allows for new and exciting ways to teach a lesson and exposes the students to many new and important tools at a young age.
During the second session of my Instructional Technologies course at Univeristy, we discussed in particular a grade 1 teacher whose students all have a blog as part of their classwork.
One of the students in our class, who is a mother herself, expressed deep concern about the dangers of exposing such young children to the open internet so early. Her concern was such that she said she would even remove her own children from a school which had such a practice.
Although there are ways for a teacher to moderate what the children post, perhaps this is something that needs more consideration: what happens if something important is missed? Once it’s out on the web, you may never know who’s had access to it.

On Cool Cat Teacher Blog, (http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/) Vicki Davis shares a story about one of her students who has learned to make technology a great and wonderful tool in her balanced and full life.

But how many students are like Virginia? Will they all come to the same realization that too much time spent on facebook or myspace (or twitter, texting or video-gaming) is unhealthy? By exposing students to these tools in the first grade or earlier, and teaching them how to use them, are we aiding in the kind of obsessive behaviour that is becoming more and more common?

Personally, I think we don’t want to rush to either extreme. To use these new tools in our schools without teaching about safe and healthy use is irresponsible, but to ignore their pervasive and powerful influence in the lives of today’s children would be extremely foolish.

Diving In

So I’ve never had a blog before…not to my knowledge at least.

Closest thing I’ve ever had was a private website run by a friend in high school. We had profiles and wrote weekly updates which I would compare to extra-long facebook statuses. So I’m going to operate under the assumption that a blog is like that only more professional.

That said…I was still struggling with what I was going to actually write about until about 10 minutes ago. I decided I’d check out some other blogs to see how it’s done. One suggested by my instructor is http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com
Her post today references the screening of a documentary called “Race to Nowhere.” It deals with the stresses of elementary and secondary school and how they can take over the students’ lives.

What really got me was the age of some of the kids who are talking about the pressure they’re under to get into a good college. They look like 6-10 years old!