Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ghost in the machine blog response

     "With new technologies the kid is able to explore much more knowledge by direct exploration, whether it's information or exploration by getting into his sources, or finding other people to talk about it. I think we're just beginning to see, and we'll see a lot more non-textual information available through something like the Web or whatever it develops into. So there will be much more opportunity to learn before running into this barrier of the limitations of the immediate." 

Technology is the way. (period)

That is not to say that teachers don't have a place in the world, however. Teachers must learn to use every tool available to them, because boy they are out there. 

We live in a world where learning is getting farther and farther from the teaching of the herd and moving increasingly closer to individual learning or 'direct exploration'. In the past (although millions of books were published) school supplied students with just a uniform set of text books, and students had to go off on their own and read books outside of the assigned reading in order to increase their personal out of school learning. Now, with students already doing so much on their own at home, they are literally SECONDS away from being able to learn something on their own without the help of a teacher or peer. The era of individual direct exploration has begun and we need to adapt. 

What does adapting consist of one might ask? Well, I would explain it as meaning that we need to reassess our learning goals. We need to change where we want our students to end up at the end of 12th grade (as well as at the end of every other grade prior). We shouldn't expect every student to be sufficiently 'learned' all of the same areas, as they aren't going to be living the same life! Some students will be going to college, some will not, some will be teachers, some will be business men or women, some will be plumbers, some will be office workers, but everyone will be different. This, with the decrease in factory workers, requires schools to allow for individualized direct exploration (via technology). 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Google intelligence

Is Google making us 'stupid-er'? Or is it changing the brain in a way that can't be defined under any common descriptive? I would elect for the latter. 

As Nicholas Carr, the author of Is Google Making Us Stupid?, writes "In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock". This is of course in reference to the widespread use of the mechanical clock, and its large influence on practical human thinking and practice. The comparison can obviously be made between the implementation of the mechanical clock (and its influences) to the widespread use of the internet for vast amounts of media (television, news, reading, etc.). As one might assume the two massively used inventions are similar in the way they alter human thinking and perception. In 2012 I unfortunately feel the need to check my phone for messages (that I probably haven't received), check my Facebook (which I have done multiple times while writing this first paragraph) and really just surf the web pointlessly. Why do we feel this way? The answer is because as useful as the internet is, as much as it can decrease stress and time wasting, it promotes it just the same. 

Unlimited tabs? More like unlimited distractions. The ease of access the internet allows is amazing, however, it promotes attention deficiency. Why focus on the nitty gritty of an article (and thus truly understand it) if another article with a catchy title is literally flashing in the sidebars of your window? It's just impossible. 

Now, the interesting theory I came away with after reading Nicholas Carr's article, has to do with the rising citizens of America, and their learning. How can we expect a generation that has known nothing but the speedy access of information and overly consuming amounts of that information to sit down and focus? Or to be able to read an entire novel, let alone understand it. Having done things heavily both before and after the electronic boom (within education) I find that I now have immense trouble focusing on things for too long, a problem I know has grown alongside my internet use. How can I expect my students to learn the way I did 10 years ago when I know that it's not how the world operates now (or how I operate now), let alone how it will operate when they're expected to be a functioning part of it. 

Within the writing of this article I have 
1. written (of course)
2. Checked my facebook
3. Sent emails
4. Received emails
5. Sent text messages
6. Looked up the African American population of North Carolina 
7. Sent a mass message to the other members of my fellowship cohort

and somehow I still feel as though my work is satisfactory. I know I will have read it two or three times over before I hit the pretty orange button up at the top that says publish, however I have multi tasked immensely. Why? Because all of that was so readily available to me. The screen I'm staring at practically begged me to 'look at this' 'check that' 'message them' 'laugh at this'. Who knows how the general population will react to this temptation as it will seemingly only begin to get bigger as time goes on. 

-Andy DeCola


 "In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford  described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.” "

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum  observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the “one best method”—the perfect algorithm—to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”

The company has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” 

In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.”

It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Marc Prensky

"If those people don’t know how to make the machines of their time work for them—i.e. to program (at whatever level is appropriate for them)—they will, as author Doug Rushkoff says, “be programmed.” "

"Once a student has a passion to know or do something—anything—the chances are excellent that he or she will do much, on their own, to follow it."

"Many of our kids have already started learning to program on their own, building playlists, social site connections, and, increasingly, apps"

"Working in virtual communities, Making videos, and Programming computers."

"We are now in an age where each person will succeed—no matter where they start—not by conforming, but rather though fine-tuning of their own individual lens on the world."

"In this new environment, the greatest long-term assistance a teacher can provide to students is to help each of them find their passion, recognize it, feel supported for it, and feel worthwhile because of it."

"there are ways to teach anything and everything our kids need to learn through the lens of their individual and personal interests."

"The good news for all of us is that because of the need for passion—that crucial educational element that technology can’t provide—to get anything accomplished, people are here to stay in education, despite our fantastic technological advances."

Given above are all of the quotes from Marc Prensky that I found worthwhile (not to say the rest of the assigned articles were garbage).

Prensky really provides an interesting idea of what ought to be taught and how it ought to be taught. The idea that instructors should focus their instruction around "Working in virtual communities, Making videos, and Programming computers" as opposed to the old 'writing writing and writing' is something I see as worthwhile.

He states that many students are already doing a lot of this, making the transition easier (true), and that they will only continue to do more of this in the future (even truer).

In asking my middle school students how many of them had Facebook accounts it was relatively unanimously yes, astounding I thought. However, in order to reach these kids I think I truly need to accept that although they are no more than 10-12 years younger than I they have acquired a vastly different skill set (and need for a skill set) than I had at that age. Thus, one may assume that they MUST be taught differently.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Khan Academy

Lightning Andy has finally checked out Khan Academy, read more to see what he thinks.

Intro to Animation

Made using: Khan Academy Computer Science.

I chose to watch a few of the tutorial videos entitled 'Computer Science: Animation" in order to potentially kill two birds with one stone and complete this an assignment given to me to check out Khan Academy while also learning something I could use in my technology class.

In reflection of the video shown above (and the following videos suggested on the site) I found that while I did learn some things I didn't have any knowledge of before, the lesson seemed to skip over some very basic ideas of animation. For example, where can all of this coding be done? For someone with absolutely no knowledge of computer animation (me) the location for which all of this coding can be done would be question one. Unfortunately this tutorial video completely ignores this.

The video would be great for someone looking for a quick refresher on animation, for example someone who has animated in the past. However, a lot of this seemed over my head, and therefore I believe it ought not be labeled a 'tutorial'.

Unfortunately, the critique I am giving seems to go along with other popular critiques of KA (I say unfortunately because I was a huge proponent of the theory behind KA prior to watching my first lessons). I really have to say that, while the material may have been presented in a good way, it was in no way presented in a way that anyone without experience (let a lone any middle schooler/ most high schoolers) could learn from. The critique that these videos are not put together by people with knowledge of how students learn is all too true.

Potentially, this video could be used in a 'flipped classroom' setting. However, I truly think having students come into class saying "WTF Mr. DeCola, that video was confusing" would not be a step in the right direction. That's not to say that the flipped classroom couldn't work with better videos. However, if the idea is to have students learn at their own pace, it might make more work for the teacher (stretching them even thinner) and having them give less to each student (as each student being at a different place in the lesson would simply be madness).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 Schedule of K12online

2012 Schedule

Linked above is the 2012 schedule for K12online's 'Learn Share Remix' online conferences. Over a period of about three weeks upwards of 20 online conferences are offered.

To respond to the question 'does this benefit a teacher's professional development?' one must begin by admitting that any time two or more teachers are able to connect and discuss a topic with shared interests everyone involved comes out a winner. Having the opportunity to enter into the thought process of another person in a similar situation to you is simply invaluable, as it offers you so much insight into your own decision making moving forward. Often this style of interaction is found inside a place of work, a school for example, and is most of the time face to face.

What makes these online conferences even better than face to face interaction is that it offers teachers and other styles of professional educators the chance to interact with teachers etc. from other regions. Thus, achieving understanding of different points of view. It's really just too perfect.

Much like most things on the internet in 2012, the service provided by K12online is free, which simply adds to it's wonder.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Old School 8th grade test

While reviewing the 'vintage' 8th grade test I came across numerous things that wouldn't fly in today's schools, all of which are listed and reflected upon below. 

1. The grading subsections- 'orthography' which in theory has now been changed to spelling and grammar etc. (which is really just rolled into one umbrella ELA grade). Should this have changed? It's really subjective, however after careful consideration I would say that with the ever too commonly found lack of spelling and grammar skills in today's youth (due to the freedom of social networking/ messaging) it might be a good idea to hold students accountable for what comes gushing from their brains (metaphorically). 

2. Physiology and hygiene- One must assume that the Physiology is just an old school way of saying 'phys ed' which of course is still graded. However, the 'hygiene' part is something that has changed dramatically. Unfortunately, a student's hygiene has morphed into somewhat of a 'pretend it doesn't exist' kind of topic. For whatever reason, teachers don't want to discuss with their students when hygiene is a problem. Awkwardness can be a killer. 

3. "Write a page on the points of the West Virginia Standard Boy or Girl" 
      What is a student supposed to even give as an answer to this? This of course cannot be used today as America pushes for equality between sexes etc. etc.

Overall, there are a lot of things that can be used from this test that may have been dropped over time (for example the number of open response questions as opposed to multiple choice drone questions). Unfortunately, there are also a lot of questions that just seem barbaric. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning while Learning

"As it turns out, using knowledge as it is being learned-- applying skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity to the content knowledge-- increases motivation and improves learning outcomes"


When I was a Junior in High School I had the fortune of being able to take a computer art class (a Photoshop class). In this half year course we learned, from an experienced professional/ art teacher how to use the very intricate Photoshop CS1 program. Reflecting back on the class, I feel that it was run in a very intelligent way. Throughout the semester were given a week's worth of classes or so to complete assignments with very strict rules. The rules, being as rigid as they were, forced us to use the program in a way that caused us to learn and become familiar with it. Thus, as the teacher was explaining the assignments/ how to use the program we would watch (often on the projector) and then try to use what we had just learned on our projects. For 90% of the class it was a trial and error process as the program wasn't all that user friendly. However, in trying to grasp what we were learning while using the knowledge we were in a way 'learning as we went'. Every member of the class, even behavioral kids, were motivated to produce an image they were proud of thus increasing the amount stat students accomplished etc. The actual use of what we were learning, as we were learning it, was unmatched.

Conversely, if the teacher had approached the class with the idea that she was going to lecture to us every class for the first half of the semester about how to use the program while expecting students to complete work the entire second half, many students would have turned themselves off.

This is, of course, an example of a very hands on (in a computer sense) class, however the idea applies to all areas of learning. Why can't a history teacher approach a class with the notion that students shouldn't be forced to 'master' the topic of American History before applying it? Why shouldn't teachers approach a class with the idea that students should be using things they learn actively on a daily basis, even if it causes mistakes to be made (as they haven't mastered it yet). I think if teachers instill the idea that application is the goal of education, many more students would find themselves 'mastering topics'.