Thursday, March 19, 2009

Making Tracks

When and where should we be teaching students about their digital footprint?

There is a lot of talk about digital footprints. Imagine what an enterprising entrepreneur could do if she could design “digital mats” to clean up our tracks every time we take a waltz through the Internet. How do we prepare our students for the idea that “Big Brother" is not only watching, he is listening and keeping a record of EVERYTHING we do online? Young people by nature consider themselves to be invincible. Just like Nathan, many will see no reason to worry or even consider the effects of that footprint—out of sight, out of mind.

By the intermediate level of elementary school, students should be made aware of their "digital footprint." Since I work with third graders, my first concern is making them aware of things they can do to protect themselves when playing games and making contacts on the Internet. Earlier this year, our counselor did a great lesson with my class about using the Internet. One of his first questions was, “How many use the Internet when parents are not at home?” A surprising number said that they did. He addressed things like giving out last names and their specific location. Without being an alarmist, he pointed out that some of that information could be used in a negative way, and that they should always check with their parents BEFORE giving ANY information about themselves online. Teaching our students to be aware of questions they are answering online and what information they should not give would be the first step to building responsibility and awareness for their digital footprint.

Does ISBs AUP take this issue into account?

The ES AUP takes this issue into account if you know what “digital footprint” means. The policy is obviously written for teachers and parents--not kids. The term “digital footprint” or the fact that once something is posted or a site is searched online, “tracks” are left, is never mentioned. If the policy is to guide elementary students and how they use the system, it needs to be presented in “student language” and directly taught whenever developmentally appropriate.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reflections on Creating the Final Project

From the beginning this whole process was a bit scary. I have taken a course in UbD and attended additional workshops given by both Wiggins and McTighe. Writing these kinds of projects is not easy. I found the “Reinventing Project-Based Learning” handout to be a big help, especially the section on “Overcoming Pitfalls” beginning on page 60. Some of the most common mistakes were described, and they were all the kinds of things I tend to do. During the planning of the project, I read this article/chapter several times. Making up my mind on the topic/theme/activity to make into the project was the dilemma.

During the morning, while listening to Susie and Jane speak about technology and project based learning, things started to come together in my mind. Their comment, “Don’t let technology lead. Match the tool to the task,” helped to put everything into perspective. Another thing they said, “Make it (student thinking) visible. Provide opportunity for discussion and questioning.” This seemed to fit perfectly with the inquiry process that is infused throughout the science program.

Since our science program is already activity based, I decided to use the next investigation of the “Structures of Life” science unit. Essential Questions are always difficult to word. With Kim’s help and critical eye, I was able to establish those and the Enduring Understandings. Keeping the technology component grade-level appropriate was the next challenge. Since my class has just completed a project in which they recorded their observations of seeds on a voice thread documenting different stages of seed germination, I decided to continue with this mode for students to make their thinking and learning visible.

For this investigation, students will be observing crayfish. As part of this task, they will photograph the crayfish and write in their science notebooks what they observe. Then they will record their observations using their voice thread with the photograph. They can also use the other record sheets and logs. Students will use writing and speaking to show their thinking about their learning. I am excited to see how the project goes.

“Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom” by Marc Prensky

In the Marc Prensky article, I can almost see him jumping up and down, madly waving his hands in time with the expediential speed of the growth of information shouting, “Yesterday! These things: individual computers in the hands of individual students, new curricula, new organization, new architecture, new teaching, new student assessments, new parental connections, new administration procedures—should have all happened YESTERDAY. The ‘digital natives’ are at the gate.” While the data banks of information continue to grow, those of us in education must “move forward the only way possible by combining what we know about technology with what we know and require about education.”

Mr. Prensky demands a great deal of change. There are a lot of ideas about the best way to bring about change. In my limited experience, change brought about from the bottom up is the most effective and enduring. Where is the bottom in education? We’re looking at it, kid. If you think about it, the “digital immigrants” are in charge, and, to some extent, in control of the “digital natives.” How long can this last?

“Living and Learning with New Media: Conclusions and Implications”

The most important point I took from this article was one that made me a little uncomfortable: we want our students to trust us, yet we don’t always show trust in them. This is their territory. This is where they are growing up—“digital natives.”

This article speaks of “a cultural shift and a certain openness to experimentation and social exploration that is generally not characteristic of educational institutions.” What better way to protect students from any dangers lurking in the waves of technology and easy access to the World Wide Web than to include them in the planning? By letting them know that we trust them and value their ideas and allowing them to take on more grown-up roles, they can teach us about what they are ready to do and learn.

Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education is the Future

Standardization in teaching, though with some variation, has been around since the late 1800s. This is the model that we are all familiar with – the teacher is the master of the classroom, and she/he teaches a selected curriculum to all students at the same time, often frustratingly trying to help the slower students to catch up and challenge the advanced students to race further ahead. Technology is changing this approach, and in the future things will be radically different.

Because technology is developing at a geometric, rather than linear, pace, predicting its specific integration and uses in future education is at least a bit iffy. However, these two authors, give us an imaginative example of a future classroom where, for example, students are learning Mandarin Chinese grammar, using noise-canceling headphones and laptop computers. One student connects remotely with a brick mason and helps him construct a sentence brick by brick in much the same way he would construct a wall. Virtual bricks are color-coded with words on them and when assembled in the correct sentence order, the English words change to phonetic Mandarin, and the two learners read the results together, working on proper pronunciation and tones. (One could suppose that if this student were working with a manicurist, then the words could be written on computer representations of fingernails and toenails.) The point here is that people learn in different ways, and elsewhere in the classroom, the software program might use the more typical and ancient rote method by speaking and repeating the words. The gist of all this is that the learning process should be tailored to the individual student’s most efficient way of learning. The teacher’s responsibility is to “float” around the classroom (which would be welcomed relief to her feet) and function more as a monitor than instructor.

The term “disruptive innovation” could be considered a misnomer, as there seems to be little disruption involved. To me it seems more supplemental in its effects. The authors note that the tendency is for advanced technology to be “crammed” into the existing classroom model – more computers at the back of the class, the establishment of computer labs, bigger, brighter white boards, etc. “Disruptive innovation” means providing technology for learning where no alternatives exist, not merely tweaking education methods already employed. Many schools are simply unable to offer what many students need. Remedial courses, courses that students must repeat in order to graduate, tutoring, home-schooled students, the educational needs of migrant workers’ children and other students whose life situations or health prevent them from attending school regularly and of course providing unlimited challenges for the brilliant students whose hunger for learning and knowledge cannot be met adequately in the classroom – all this hopefully can and will be addressed by the firestorm that educational technology is becoming.