The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: August 5, 2011

Build capacity in schools

I highly recommend finding an hour and watching this video (Thanks to @KenMLibby for sharing it). In it, Dr. Pedro Noguera shares some examples of effective ways we could change schools and speaks out against the ineffective reforms that have been enacted in the US for decades.

Note that much of what Dr. Noguera suggests could be implemented in the high poverty schools in Canada just as easily as the US. I don’t think we have as much difficulty with highly scripted instruction here in Canada, thankfully, but we do have a huge child poverty problem, and it behoves us to look at ways we can help our children as much as we can.

My first semester teaching

I just reread a story I wrote on here about my first semester teaching and thought I would share it again. The story is broken into 9 parts, and I hope to continue it. I’d really like to make sure I remember more of what happened in NYC, since the experience was such a life-altering one for me.

"My first semester teaching"

I’d love to read more people’s experiences of their first semester teaching as well, and compare notes.

Prisons, fighter jets, or investing in education?

First, watch this video (thanks to Blair Miller for sharing it with me) and decide whether you agree with its premise.

A Bird’s Eye View of Child Poverty in BC from s j on Vimeo.

Now ask yourself, are we doing enough in BC to reduce child poverty? What else could we be doing?

I live in a part of Vancouver where I see poverty every day. I’m only a few blocks from the downtown East side, and from the place in our city where the worst poverty makes itself evident, Main and Hastings. Whenever I walk through, or drive through, that part of town, I  see hundreds of people whose lives are obviously difficult, and who struggle each day with addiction, and finding enough to eat and drink. One thing I wonder now is, where are their children?

The children of the people living in the slums of Vancouver should not be held accountable for any poor decisions of their parents, but as a society, we shame them everyday. They are shamed at school by their peers, where bullying of people who are poor is rampant. They are shamed when they are excluded from participating in the events that happen in our society. We treat them poorly in so many ways, when they already experience so much grief in their own lives. Eventually, they will grow up, and many of them will take the places of their parents on the streets. In fact, because of the strong cyclical nature of poverty, one could argue that the people who end up in poverty later in life are not there because of they made poor choices… but instead of poor choices made by society at large.

If we recognize that the poor children today will likely become the poor adults of tomorrow, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to prevent this from happening? Whether or not you agree that this is a moral issue, and one which our society is, in general, handling very poorly, you must recognize that the economic consequences for our society are enormous. For example, my mother worked as a paramedic in Vancouver for a while, and she always said that 90% of her calls when she worked downtown were from people with repeat health problems caused by the side-effects of poverty. If we are willing to spend so much money cleaning up the problem, why aren’t we willing to spend more preventing it from happening in the first place?

Education is supposed to be a way out of poverty, but instead of investing heavily in education, our country is building more prisons and fighter jets. We have our priorities completely wrong as a society. Instead of electing people who would slash education funding in an effort to reduce taxes, we should be looking for politicians who will invest in education, and invest in the social programs which are proven to reduce the effects of child poverty.

Critical learning tool, or flashy extra?

This article was originally written for our school’s Imprint magazine, and is reprinted with permission.

The role of technology in education is a fairly contentious issue these days in most schools. There are those that believe that technology is a necessary add-on to the classroom; that teachers and students both need to keep up to date on the most current technologies so that students have marketable skills when they leave school. Others believe that technology should be kept strictly out of schools; that the old ways we learned in schools were “fine for us” and so should be fine for our students as well. There is yet another group that believes that educators and students should use the best tools available as part of their learning; and that in some cases, this means some sort of technology.

I personally tend to subscribe to the third point of view. I’m not a fan of just using technology because it helps prepare students. I think that we need to have a deeper reason to implement technology given the cost and time investment necessary to make any technology use worthwhile. I also think that our role is not necessarily to prepare students for jobs, but to prepare them for life, which takes more than simply knowing how to use a spreadsheet, or create a presentation.

There is a danger that we use technology simply because it is “flashier” than what we used to do. People who suggest that the primary reason to use technology is because it will “engage” the learner are I think missing the point of engagement. Real engagement comes from exposure to meaningful, relevant, and interesting ideas. Using ‘flashy’ technology is not engaging students, it is merely attracting their attention, much like light attracts a moth. The flashiness attracts the student’s attention, but once the novelty wears off, the attention is quickly lost. Engagement, on the other hand, is self-sustaining.

However, some technology allows us to learn about areas which would have been previously impossible, or impractical, without the technology. For example, being able to Skype chat to another classroom, or to a topic expert, opens a digital portal between two places. Skype technology allows for a type of communication previously impossible without the technology; real time ‘face to face’ conversations over tremendous distances.

This is part of the reason that our interactive white boards have seen limited use, and that our new Flip cameras have been booked out nearly every single day. The interactive white boards require a significant investment in time from teachers, and tend to promote a teacher-centred classroom with inexperienced use. The Flip cameras, on the other hand, allow students and teachers to do something not possible without their use. Students can now record, edit, and then examine videos they have created themselves.

In order to see a return on our investment in the interactive whiteboards, we are sending a few teachers who have volunteered to give up part of their summer to learn about how to use these devices effectively. In turn, they will share their new-found expertise with our staff, and we will be able to turn this “flashy” technology into something productive.

The most obvious piece of technology that we have introduced this year has been our one-to-one laptop program. While in some schools this would been implemented so that students could do research, write essays, and read textbooks, we have already been using the laptops for so much more. Students have been creating and editing multimedia, designing schools of the future in 3D, and using interactive geometry programs, for example, all of which have enhanced the students’ learning.

We will continue to focus on using technologies that are critical learning tools, rather than flashy add-ons. Your children deserve nothing less.