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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Is it me? Is it the system?

This one has been inspired by a recent discussion with Alastair Turnbull – keep the faith!

At the age of 17 I had no interest whatsoever in learning how to drive a car. Why should I learn? I can get about fine at the moment, and if I want a lift I can ask someone! So while my classmates were learning how to drive, and saving up to buy old bangers (or being bought spanking new convertibles by ‘mother and father’ – I went to a posh school!), I was leading my life oblivious to the benefits of having this particular skill. One day, a friend asked me to come and visit them. They lived in a remote place, and suddenly the reality of not being able to drive hit me hard. I then started to think about how driving could make my life better – no more waiting around at train stations, no more complicated planning to get to ‘difficult’ places, and no more having to rely on friends or relatives to give me a lift.

The similarities to the teaching environment are obvious. There are many teachers out there who have no interest whatsoever in learning how to make use of ICT. Why learn? In their opinion, they are teaching fine at the moment! Sure, they may have noticed that members of their class are a little bit disinterested, but tightening up their classroom management will solve this. They are still achieving the same results, and the correct percentage of their class are still achieving the ‘right’ grade, so why change?

I am a firm believer that show a teacher any teaching aid or method that improves the quality of education in their classroom, and they will judge it on its own merit. If you are not sure about this, then think about when videos arrived in schools. Many staff didn’t see the point in using this new technology, and were convinced that their textbook explanation of things was more than adequate – if some pupils didn’t understand the concept being taught, then they (the pupil!) would just have to try harder. Now, we have learned so much about how people think, that we need to move away from this model, no matter how comfortable it may be for us.

When I was in Boston in 2004, I had a few ‘what if we slice the bread before we sell it’ moments. The one that shook me to the core was when Bob Tinker in his keynote presentation demonstrated an interactive program that quite frankly made science come to life in a way that I wish my science teachers could have been able to achieve! I think everyone left the session re-evaluating their own concept of teaching science.

Whenever you show someone how particles and atoms behave, all you can show them is a model - effectively a video of what happens. What some of Bob Tinker’s colleagues have created is an interactive program that allows you to vary the properties of elements etc. You could never witness this with a microscope, or convey to a pupil what was happening effectively prior to this. A pupil would either ‘get’ the concept, or they wouldn’t. This program changes everything. Best of all, it’s free! Check out - http://molit.concord.org/software/ (free science software) - molecular workbench

I’ll give you another example – I couldn’t imagine starting a lesson in RE about where a world religion originated without using ‘Google Earth’ or ‘NASA World Wind’ – if you are not sure, then think about how you would do this with a textbook – the RE textbook will probably have the world’s most uninspiring ‘pale blue line drawing’ of some area of the world, completely out of context. Not many of your pupils will be able to put this in context by themselves, and many will switch off for this reason – or better still, they will use the obligatory pen they have in their hand to draw on your textbook – why? – because they are uninvolved. You might have a big world map on the wall that you try and point at, but this doesn’t compare to the 3D modelling and photography of Google Earth or NASA World Wind. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get in touch with someone who lives there, and they could tell us what it is like? You can – check out ePals.com or globalvoices.org (note - having just checked ePals - it's blocked in Argyll & Bute - communication is obviously a dangerous thing! - although curously MySpace isn't - go figure...)

Sure, the technology may not work, and you may have to revert to plan ‘B’. Then again – it might work, and your lesson is much ‘better’ at engaging and explaining. What if the technology doesn’t work? Then you have ‘wasted’ 5 minutes of your lesson, before moving on to plan ‘B’ – in the meantime that quiet, disinterested pupil that you usually struggle to get involved in your lessons may pipe up with the solution to the technical problem you are facing. All of a sudden that pupil is involved in what you are doing, and they will feel brilliant at being able to ‘help’ the teacher. If it doesn’t work and no-one can find the answer – move on – don’t spend longer than 5 minutes in class trying to solve something. We all have to change tact sometimes in a lesson – it’s called being adaptable. Most importantly though – tell someone what happened. It only takes a minute to pick up the phone, or send an email. You might not get the answer there and then, but if you’ve told someone ‘techy’ then they won’t rest until they have figured it out for you (we are sad individuals like that ;-) ).

Darren Kuropatwa in refute of Thomas Freidman’s theory – ‘The World is Flat’ describes the digital divide as being two enormous plateaux – separated by a huge cliff. Our job as ICT empowered teachers is to help those on the lower plateaux find the staircase up to the other plateaux. Will it be scary? It might. But don’t worry. We’ll go up one step at a time – and I’ll hold your hand on the way up.


Blogger Ewan McIntosh said...

Great post - you're comparison with driving hits home here, as I have GOT to start learning this next month or so. Arghh!

2:05 pm  
Anonymous Alastair said...

I can see the bit about driving a car...in teaching, where I am at any rate, the teachers are of a "certain age" and are very slow to see the light.

However, one can only sow the seed so to say and hope for germination!

4:05 pm  
Blogger marlyn moffat said...

And what age might that be, Alastair??? You'll note the heavy undertone, I imagine :-) ?
'Elderly educationalist' somewhere down the road.

5:24 pm  
Blogger Morag Macdonald said...

Some people just need the opportunity and the encouragement. They are a bit scared and if they can manage without it they will. They may also attack, as their best form of defence. If they are of a certain age then you may have a limited amount of time to influence them. I agree Andrew about 'holding hands'- it works so much better when you can share the learning experience with someone- look at me and Marlyn, elderly though she may be;-) we have achieved things by supporting and encouraging one another. You should have learned to drive in Dunoon Ewan- no roundabouts and only one set of traffic lights!

8:06 pm  
Anonymous Darren Kuropatwa said...

I think the issue is more about a fear of change, or fear of taking risks -- trying something new.

It's ironic, really. We all try to encourage our students to take risks in the classroom by asking questions and stretching their thinking so that they learn. Do we all model this same attitude? It's important that students have teachers that model this same kind of risk taking. The "Do as I say, not as I do" model of teaching has never worked. Never will.

4:41 am  
Anonymous Ian Stuart said...

I was at a conf recently in Glasgow on the subject of eAssessment. It was looong hot day (Remember that big thunder storm in the west of Scotland?)
During the Q&A the question was asked 'How do we get the teachers who are reticent about eAnything to join in?". The answer from one of the panel was a very considered, 'Shoot them.' It really is a very effective answer when said in a Northern Irish accent. He went on to say that in Japenese management philosophy you are told to expect 3 kinds of manager.
One is the 'let's get on with it', another is the 'I can see good points and bad points', the third is the 'We're doomed'camp.
The question I have is why are so many teachers in the 'We're doomed' camp.
Maybe its because I didn't come straight into teaching but when I first experienced it the attitude really was quite overwelling.
The conclusion from the panel was that this attitude is and will contiue to change as teachers come into the profession who are more digital native than Ned Ludd.
Though I think it may take much longer to get the decision makers to take the plunge with full commitment.

5:04 pm  

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