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?

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