Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs?

Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs? - washingtonpost.com:

"Call it multitasking homework, Generation 'Net style.

The students who do it say multitasking makes them feel more productive and less stressed. Researchers aren't sure what the long-term impact will be because no studies have probed its effect on teenage development. But some fear that the penchant for flitting from task to task could have serious consequences on young people's ability to focus and develop analytical skills."
We all know the scene: teen managing their MySpace, instant messaging, listening to music, sharing homework, and word processing all at the same time. This article from The Washington Post takes an interesting look at teenager multi-tasking.

The article misleads though when they quote Jordan Grafman, chief of neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as saying,

"Introducing multitasking in younger kids in my opinion can be detrimental," he said. "One of the biggest problems about multitasking is that it's almost impossible to gain a depth of knowledge of any of the tasks you do while you're multitasking. And if it becomes normal to do, you'll likely be satisfied with very surface-level investigation and knowledge."

This quote has NOTHING to do with neurological disorder or stroke, yet by quoting him, the writer offers the impression that this could be a possibility. Is this even ethical? Lots of adults are saying the same thing...how can they be focusing? How can they be understanding? What purpose is their in getting this quote from the head of the Stroke Institute unless it is to imply that they think it's bad for teens' health (which they do not as far as I can tell)?

The article goes on to describe a study which indicated that scoring is similar on a card recall activity by those multi-tasking and those not. Interestingly again, it then goes on to offer that the multi-taskers seem to recall less detail.

"imaging showed that different parts of the brain were active depending on whether the subjects did single or multiple tasks. When subjects were focused on sorting, the hippocampus -- the part of the brain responsible for storing and recalling information -- was engaged. But when they were multitasking, that part of the brain was quiet and the part of the brain used to master repetitive skills -- the striatum -- was active."

Was recall part of the activity? Multitasking may shut off certain parts of the brain that are unnecesary, but could it be that good multi-tasking would have allowed for recall, if that were asked of the multi-tasker? Maybe the multi-tasking brain is effective because it can shut off what it doesn't need. I don't know the answer to this, but as I read this article I thought of how often we, digital immigrant, try to force our own hang-ups on digital native multi-taskers.

If students aren't getting to the depth of knowledge like they are "supposed" to, then perhaps that is because we aren't "asking" them to. If they can multi-task and get good grades, as the article suggests, then these students are doing what is being asked of them and doing it well.

Yet we then question the depth of their knowledge?

Is not the depth of their knowledge, dependent on what we ask them to know? And if our questions ask for depth, wouldn't that be an effective gauge for how well they can achieve that depth, while still multi-tasking? Maybe with thought-requiring questions, a student might drop some of those "tasks" and focus on the one...or maybe we'd find that their brains are in fact wired differently than ours and that they can think with depth while chatting with their friends.

Either way, I find it hard to blame the lack of depth in teens' knowledge on their own multi-tasking. No, that blame falls directly on us...their teachers. Let's give them something worth focusing on and then we can worry about how they get there.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Teaching wikis to future educators: My virtual presentation at the College of William and Mary

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Teaching wikis to future educators: My virtual presentation at the College of William and Mary: "Tomorrow I am spending time with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's class EDUC 330 Tech Enhanced Learning at the College of William and Mary."

It is great to see that my alma mater is doing some forward thinking here. Made me feel proud that they have a class that focuses on this and that isn't focused on "tech" that is already outdated. The speaker list is terrific with some of the great bloggers I find on my own Netvibes account. Great news. Well done W&M! Go Tribe!

There are some other great gems on this particular post from Vicki. A great couple of videos on wikis and the 21st century teacher. It's worth checking out if you came here first...(though CoolCat's readership is significantly higher than mine, so I am guessing that it'll happen the other way around if at all).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Two great posts

Too much traveling and catching up with my first job lately. Been catching up on my feeds, but not enough time to ponder to sort through my thoughts.

Two great posts though recently that I commented on that I'd like to share though.

1) Dangerously Irrelevant just hit its 6 month birthday. This is incredible to me, since I find Scott's blog has a large reader list. It just goes to show what you can accomplish with meaningful posts and thought-provoking ideas. The post is a particulary good one in that Scott talks about what he reads and how he makes those choices - very useful for a blogger trying to increase his readership to get more conversations going.

In particular, Scott brings a focus on leadership in education which I find refreshing and important. I worry at times, that we (the ed tech bloggers) get caught up in our 2.0's (web, school, student) and we become victims of our own group think. Scott's D.I. blog keeps an eye on the other sides of the arguement. Recently he has also shared other leadership blogs worth keeping an eye on. Only 6 months...incredible.

2) Another frequent read for me is Chris Lehmann's Practical Theory. He recently posted a poignant reminder of how the students that we teach affect us as much as we affect them. Reminded me of some of my own fortune in becoming peer/colleagues with many of the teachers who were inspiring to me as a student. Anyway...as always, another great post from Chris.

Just had dinner with an old friend from those days actually. Hadn't seen her in at least 12 years...and yet we fell back into it. Good people are good people. Common ground is common ground. Doesn't matter how long you don't see them for...those two things keep relationships going. (okay, that's a random aside...but it was nice catching up).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Does "teaching" have such a bad connotation?

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant brought attention to this April 2006 guest posting by Mike Wesch (who just made the incredible Web 2.0 you tube video...see earlier post in this blog). In his guest post on Savage Minds, Mike describes his World Simulation activity. He calls this activity an example of anti-teaching.

"Teaching," he says, "is about providing good information. Anti-teaching is about inspiring good questions."

Reading on in this post, it sounds like a terrific example of students learning and understanding cultures and how they differ and how they thrive (or not) in a globalized world. The activity in fact, seems like a great one and comments by actual students seem to confirm this.

I am struck, however, by his use of terms. Purposely, he refers to this successful activity as an example of anti-teaching. He continues to say that he finds himself anti-teaching more and more in his efforts to have students really learn. Has our opinion of teaching truly come to this? Have we lost all faith in the idea that teachers actually do teach for understanding and that the very questioning that Mike values is in fact the very same questioning that many teachers value? And they call that teaching.

Now I recognize that perhaps it is Mike's intent to inspire us (like Apple) to Think Differently. His very use of this technology may anger some or at least make teachers defensive. But then, reading the comments, I found no such anger. No such indignation. No one saying, "Wait a minute, I do that stuff all the time and I'm a teacher." Perhaps it's Mike's disclaimer that appeases people by saying classrooms need to have both teaching and anti-teaching. Or perhaps the World Simulation was just such a good activity that teachers were able to look past any slights and recognize a chance at a good lesson plan when they saw one.

Or maybe I am just too sensitive.

Recently there have been discussions in other blogs about teacher movies and whether they inspire people to become teachers, or paint the picture of teaching to be too intense and too life changing to be done by any mere mortal, I guess I am sensitive to how we as educators refer to ourselves and our colleagues. Maybe we don't all do it perfectly or even well. But when we do, shouldn't we be calling that "teaching". Doesn't it hurt our own cause to refer to best cases of students truly understanding as the exact opposite of teaching?

I love education. And I really love to see understanding happen around me. If, through something a teacher did/planned/encouraged, students start asking deep questions and demonstrate understanding, then I say we call that TEACHING. Because that's why I think a lot of us got into this gig in the first place.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Changing the world or OUR world?

I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand on a grade 8 four-night trip this week. Just got back and am a little bleary eyed. Chaperoning is tiring work. Also didn't touch a computer in that time which was both refreshing and worrisome.

Anyway, as I biked and hiked around the rural areas, I was struck, as I always am, with the understanding that the Internet and Web 2.0 and all of these other technologies that we talk about so much aren't in everyone's world. It's our world that they influence, but there are a whole lot of people for whom day to day existence and agriculture sustenance are realities. Blogs, wikis and podcasts are not. They are not less happy for it. In fact, some of the happiest people I've met in my life have been in Nepal. People for whom we would describe have nothing, but they would say that have everything they need. Would they like to be wealthier? I am sure that they would, but they don't need it to be happier.

I always liked going to Nepal.

Anyway, thinking about the massive population that does NOT have access, inevitably takes me to wondering about our focus on changing education for a 21st century learner. What about the world's learners who are still mid-20th century at best? We are just widening this gap. But then I am reminded that our world is shaped, not by those farmers and those "without", but rather by those "with". And so, I am encouraged by what we do and our efforts to prepare worldly-wise, critical thinkers who won't just learn the technology and the thinking that we teach them...they will bend it to their will.

And if that widens the gap, then perhaps these same children will be able to figure out a way to preserve (not destroy) and celebrate that world in which "those without" live - something we have not been able to do.

Upon returning from the trip, I got back to my netvibes to find this article among the many I had to catch up on. It reminded me of my "hiking thoughts" and so I've included it here. It reminds me how lucky, by simple fluke of birth, I have been to live without such massive oppression.

Despite a Ban, Chinese Youth Navigate to Internet Cafes - washingtonpost.com: "For those unable to afford their own computers -- the vast majority here -- going online in a clandestine dive has become the only option; the local Communist Party leader banned Internet cafes nine months ago as a bad influence on minors.

'If they dare to reopen, we might launch another campaign to shut them all down again,' proclaimed Zhang Guobiao, party secretary for the surrounding Fangshan County."


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

Web 2.0 explained. Thanks to Thinking Stick for putting me on to this. Mwesch with a very impressive and clear demo/explanation of xml and how we are teaching the machine. Awesome.

Teaching the Machine

Web 2.0…The Machine is Us/ing Us at The Thinking Stick

Over at Thinking Stick, Jeff posted the great video by mwesch in the above post. It also allowed me to work out how to add YouTube to my own blog, which was an added bonus. I've added it above. It is a response to Jeff's own YouTube video explaining Web 2.0. Thanks to Jeff for finding this one and of course, thanks to mwesch for making it and sharing it with us all.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

2 Cents Worth » Take it away! Take it All Away!

2 Cents Worth » Take it away! Take it All Away!: "Then someone asked if the literacy skills that I was talking about were part of anyone’s curriculum. The answer is, “Yes!” My own state, for one, has been teaching and testing computer skills for more than ten years. However, it is a reductionist response to the need for digital literacy (what I call contemporary literacy). We have reduced computer skills out into their own list of standards, separated again into objectives, and performance indicators. We’ve reduced it down to components that can be discretely measured."

In this post David Warlick talks about the typical standards document that all tech people have been involved in creating: the skills document that says when kids will have to learn computer skills like how to use a mouse and later spreadsheets and presentations. And we are all careful to avoid saying "Microsoft" or "Excel" or "PowerPoint" because we are concerned with the skill, not the software itself, but then in the end, our document hold us only to teaching that particular software.

This is a document we've all worked on ... and we've all watched it die.

These documents either intimidate the teachers who are supposed to integrate it into their teaching, or it hides on a shelf in a curriculum office, ready for an accreditation.

But here' s a thought: what if technology was treated as the tool we think it is?

What if our "document" instead required that we focus our attention on thinking skills and 21st century learning - the very ideas that we all seem to celebrate in these blogs?

Let's take the skills out of that document for a second and focus instead on Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe's Essential Questions, from Understanding by Design. By planning student learning using "Backwards Design" (how much longer do we have to call the correct way, "backwards"), we can focus instead on what are the fundamentals of what we believe children need to learn.

School 2.0's essential questions aren't about skills. They aren't about learning spreadsheets or databases or movie making. They are not even about blogging or podcasting or wikis. The essential questions of School 2.0 are about critical thinking and communication and evaluation of resources and information that are everywhere in children's lives.

If we want the ideas of our blogs to be taken seriously by administrators and curriculum planners, then we must approach our planning the same way that all other educators are expected to. By starting with a focus on those essential questions and those enduring understandings. If that's the case, then wouldn't our I.T. document read with questions like, "How do you know something is true?"

Isn't that greater than just a tech question? Isn't that a question that stretches from PreK to 12th grade and beyond? And isn't that a question that all teachers can take ownership of, regardless of their technology skills. We don't need to take "non-tech" options away from teachers, we need to provide them with a context where tech needs to exist. PreK kids will talk about truth and validity in the context that makes sense to them. So will 4th graders. So will seniors.

So how does technology get into this conversation? The answer: when it fits. Now of course, this requires some amount of articulation by educators who know what they are talking about. Librarians and I.T. coordinators and classroom teachers who do have technology skills. For example, when a discussion of truth includes science and proving a theory with experiements and data, then spreadsheets are introduced to demonstrate techniques of data analysis. Technology is the tool here, not the skill.

We blog all the time, that it isn't about the software skills, that's it about something greater. But then we all keep making these technology skill standards documents for grade levels and curriculums. And I don't see anyone using them.

Instead of trying to force our stuff on others with our integrated scopes and sequeneces, why don't we join them? Why don't we frame great questions about thinking and learning and questionning? And then why don't we show kids and teachers how technology can help them do all of these things? It is, after all a tool, right?

So now...what are the essential questions of school 2.0?