Saturday, September 27, 2008

Floyd Dryden Technology Assessment

Over the last few weeks my counterparts and I have been exploring the technology resources available to us at FDMS. Dryden is a technologically well equipped school with a knowledgeable staff and helpful tech experts. The student population is, generally speaking, fairly tech savvy and with good reason. Dryden boasts:

  • Computers in each classroom
  • Smart boards available for check out
  • Schoolwide Internet access
  • Digital projectors and overheads in each room
  • A host of education related software
Floyd Dryden follows the Alaska Content Standards for Technology and digital technology is frequently incorporated into everyday classroom activities. Perhaps the most used piece of technology is the digital projector. This is an extremely versatile piece of equipment, capable of projecting videos, DVDs, computer based media, and anything else placed beneath it's camera. The Accelerated Reader program and STAR testing match students with books at their reading level. Students can then take online tests on tens of thousands of different books. This creates a student driven reading program and familiarizes students with basic computer use and web navigation.

Dryden staff emphasize the value of technology through its incorporation in lesson development and presentation. Though overt instruction in technology and its use are generally reserved for tech class, students are immersed in a technologically rich environment every day in their classes and there are opportunities to learn more about technology outside of class. To learn more, please consult my FDMS Technology Assessment.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Article Assessment #1

Digital Natives is an interesting article by Marc Prensky in which he addresses what he sees as the divide between pre-digital education and digital savvy students. In Prensky's view, 21st century students are "digital natives", people who have grown up in the digital environment and to whom technology and its use is second nature. We, the teachers, are with rare exception "digital immigrants" who, though we may be reasonably proficient with technology, are still far from fluent. Prensky argues that our schools are failing our students because they don't adequately incorporate technology and are thus unable to effectively engage the students. In order to rectify this situation, Prensky suggests that we as teachers should:

  • incorporate aspects of digital world "gameplay" into classroom instruction
  • update our subject matter so that students are exposed to 21st century material (nanotechnology, genetic medicine, neuroscience, etc)
  • increase student access to digital technology in the classroom
  • increase the number of courses teaching digital skills like programming
  • involve students in developing instruction
  • focus on engagement rather than content when planning lessons
From a teaching perspective, I both see the truth of much of what Prensky says and yet still find myself reluctant to give myself over to his solutions. It's certainly true that today's students are well acquainted with and engaged by digital technology. Gameplay undoubtedly has appeal and I know that educational games (e.g. Carmen Sandiego) exist and can be both fun and educational. Programming and other digital skills are in huge demand and I completely agree that schools should offer courses in those areas where feasible.

Clearly technology has enormous educational potential both engaging students and enhancing lessons. However, I have misgivings about technology as panacaea. The average American child already spends huge amounts of time in front of the television or playing video games. Obesity is one of our country's biggest health problems correlates rather neatly with the amount of time spent in front of computers and TVs. There is some evidence as well that social skills and attention spans have declined as kids become more and more immersed in digital worlds. Given this reality, I think that technology use in the classroom, especially in the form of digital games, should be carefully balanced with more traditional instruction.

Obviously technology and technological innovation are here to stay, and the digital world is a growing part of our reality as well. Given the increased prevalence of technology in our everyday lives, schools do have a responsibility to teach students appropriate technology and to incorporate its use where it can truly help students to learn more effectively. For me, technology has a place in the classroom supplementing traditional instruction and peer interaction.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


a. How would you "grade" or assess Fox Becomes a Better Person and School Train?

The beauty of alternative assessments is that they allow students to be creative in demonstrating their understanding of a subject and to explore modes of communication other than the standard essay or research project. For School Train I liked how basic the expectation was: show an understanding of metaphor. Having simple, straightforward, open-ended expectations like this helps create an environment conducive to creativity and self expression. It also puts the impetus on the student to do their utmost to demonstrate that they really do understand. The question then becomes: did they convince me?

In School Train the students use numerous juxtapositions and direct statements to compare school to a train. For example:

  • cars are classrooms
  • tickets / homework
  • students / passengers
  • dining car / cafeteria
To me these statements clearly show that the students understand the metaphor they've created; namely, that school is a train ride. Therefore in the area of content I would give the students an "A". In grading a creative endeavor such as this I think it is also important to take effort and creativity into consideration. The students obviously put a fair amount of thought into the ways in which school mimics a train as well as significant effort in putting the whole thing together. The use of train-like sounds and classroom visuals to tie everything together shows great understanding as well as the creative use of media. I'd give them "A"s for effort and creativity as well.

Fox Becomes a Better Person is slightly different. We have no prior understanding of what the expectations are but, for the sake of grading, I'm going to say that the assignment was to synthesize traditional Native and digital storytelling by:

  • telling a story
  • effective use of technology
  • using relevant visual aids
  • incorporating Native values
In regards to telling a story, the student does a fairly good job in relating the story of Fox. She speaks from memory and acts out pieces of the story to help relate what is going on. She's engaging and easy to understand. Her use of background visuals helps set the scene and gives the story a more personal feeling. Although simple, her use of technology works well. Live action over hand drawn pictures combines high and low-tech and her use of music helps introduce and bring closure to the story. She directly addresses the Native value of "speak with care" and her story indirectly portrays several more. Based on these requirements, I would give her an "A".

b. What impacts could the developments portrayed in Epic2015 have on your classroom, particularly with respect to things like podcasts?

I was thoroughly impressed by Epic2015. The synthesis of history and prophecy is eerily plausible. The confluence of information technologies, advertising, consumerism, and digital networking portrayed in Epic2015 frightens me because it so closely resembles what we're seeing already. Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace have already achieved enormous popularity and technologies like cookies have been mapping user preferences for years. In the classroom and society in general, people are becoming more involved in their digital worlds, even as in many instances they withdraw from the world at large. Some of the larger points that Epic2015 drove home were:

  • we have, via the internet, access to a "breadth and depth of information previously unimaginable"
  • technologies already exist to electronically tailor information for individual consumption
  • in the digital age, huge quantities of our personal information are available online
With all of this in mind, and knowing the pace at which technology is currently developing, we as teachers need to recognize that we are inextricably caught up in the digital age. We as teachers need to understand that we are going to be teaching in an age where digital identities and cyber-bullying are big deals, where kids have multiple lives: a real, flesh and blood, physical life and an online, digitized, abstracted life. How can this reality fail to impact our classrooms? Professors at the university level, especially in distance courses, are using podcasts to post their lectures online and huge numbers of young people post their lives on Youtube or rant on blogs (like this one). The sheer amount of information available to students is truly mind-boggling and their exposure to it (be it trivial or profound) is bound to shape classroom interactions. For me, the challenge will be to harness the positive potential of technology while not being overwhelmed by the "fluff" of digital life.

c. What can students learn about math by animating a rolling ball?

Can students learn mathematical concepts by creating an animation of a ball rolling on the beach? After watching just such an animation and the process behind it, I was convinced that they could. First, the students used computer software to create a beach, and later a ball, which they then rolled along the beach. Initially they simply move the ball several units to the right, but the lack of roll sticks out as extremely unrealistic. Therefore the students had to determine how to get the ball to roll that same distance in the animation. In order to do so they had to understand several basic math concepts:

  • how to use axes (x,y,z) and what they correlate to in space
  • how to calculate circumference
  • how circumference relates to distance traveled in a rolling object
From an educational standpoint, I think that the lesson innovatively presented these math concepts while at the same time appropriately incorporating technology skills (digital animation) and creativity. The students also told a story by guiding us through the animation process, enabling us to better understand how they worked through the problem and overcame obstacles. Their initial attempt to move the ball along the x-axis was a failure because it resulted in the ball moving unnaturally across the beach surface. They achieved the goal of moving the ball, but it didn't look right and so they had to try again.

Thus they had to learn about circumference, how to calculate it, and then they had to apply it in relation to distance in order to make the ball roll onscreen the desired distance. In order to overcome an obstacle the students had to think more deeply about the math concepts in order to apply them to a practical and engaging problem. Having to work out how to apply these concepts the students will be more likely to remember them and to understand how they work in the real world.

d. How might you use Sabrina's piece, Sabrina Journey, as a model for something you might do with your own student.

Of all the media that we looked at, Sabrina Journey was the most like something I would have my students put together. The format was essentially autobiographical with a view towards analyzing "belonging" and discussing her journey back home. It is simply formatted: a running slideshow of images over her own personal narrative, and yet it is quite effective. If I were to make it a class assignment in a language arts or social studies class I would have the students incorporate the following elements:

  • a personalized written narrative (Sabrina Journey is autobiographical but the narrative could also describe a historical event, a place, culture, etc.)
  • the use of appropriate images to enhance/illustrate the story
  • tasteful use of music to evoke emotions
  • mastery of appropriate technology
In assigning something like this I would be looking at the written narrative first and foremost. Is the student able to engagingly tell a story? Do they vary vocabulary and sentence structure? Essentially, do they have a well written backbone for their video? The rest of the project would focus on multimedia creation by teaching students to use images and music to help convey their thoughts and feelings in a creative way. Students would also have to learn how to do some basic computer video editing, thereby exposing them to the new and rapidly growing medium of digital multimedia.

The basic structure in Sabrina Journey, therefore, would be applicable to a wide range of projects in numerous subjects and would foster cross curricular learning between the arts (image and music selection/creation and use), language arts (the written narrative), and technology classes (the creation of digital multimedia). It also seems that, with kids as tech-savvy as they are these days, students would love this kind of a project.