D.

Doing Homework with a Search Engine Optimized Brain

Mother: ”Turn off the iPod.” ”Stop with the video chat!” ”NO TEXTING while you’re supposed to be doing homework!”

Son: ”MOM! Stop. I can concentrate better with music on.”

Daughter: ”I need the video chat on. I’m going over homework with my friends.”

(debbiestier)

Sounds familiar? In the above CBS News video neuroscientist Gary Small explains how technology may be making us smarter and why it may be good to let our kids become internet savvy multitaskers. Hopefully, they never forget that communication isn’t concentration, and information isn’t education. Fortunately, so far no one bars a search engine optimized brain from reading a book.

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H.

How to Do Research for Kids

In libraries and on the internet, you can find answers to almost any question you can think of. If you know how to do research, it can be much more fun… and faster too!

This is a very good, board game like online-introduction on how to do research for kids. The award-winning site site was created in 2003 by the Kentucky Virtual Library Kids and Teachers Workgroup, with design and animation by Shere Chamness. Thanks to its clever focus on the essentials of research (plan, search, take notes, use the information, report, evaluate), it is still extremely helpful. Nevertheless, I was wondering if there is any newer version of something like this out there “in the known universe”? I should do some additional research, but now I know exactly how to do.

www.kyvl.org
Realart

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T.

Technology and Change

Stewart Smith provides an interesting comparison: Take a doctor from the early 19th century and ask him to take over an operation in an up to date operating theatre where somebody is undergoing an open heart surgery. The 19th century surgeon would probably not be able to continue the operation. Take a 19th century teacher and ask him to continue a math lesson until the end, the reverse is probably true.

In four videos Stewart Smith presents some experience based ideas about how change management and technology integration in schools are possible. You can watch these videos here: Part 1 (2:45), Part 2 (5:19), Part 3 (8:48) and Part 4 (1:42).

Stewart Smith is Director of ICT Strategic Leadership at the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) and ICT Advisor for the London Borough of Brent. On a recent visit to Australia, he outlined the opportunities and challenges of ‘Next Generation Learning’, a program about leading and managing change in London schools.

Web resources: Next Generation Learning, London Grid for Learning, Roar Educate.

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T.

The Globalization of Reading and Writing

Schools are in the middle of a transitional process. The future of literacy has already begun. Globish is replacing English as a lingua franca and Moore’s Law is not only an indicator for the long-term trend in the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit but also for the speed of change coming with technological progress. Are teachers, parents, students and policy makers keeping up with the times? Is there anything like change management for schools as learning organizations?

Dr Patricia Fioriello, an educator and administrator from San Francisco, recently published an e-book on new literacy proposing thoughtful ideas and suggestions for “the piece that is missing” in the transition from the current school curriculum to a world wide web based literacy approach. Her book is clearly written, insightful and fun to read illustrating the issue with a lot of good examples and historical background. Teachers, parents, policy makers and students alike may find it interesting.

Literacy for the 21st century. (c) www.drpfconsults.com

What does it mean to be a literate person today? According to Patricia Fioriello “Literacy needs to be thought of as the sum total of the skills that a student will need to have proficiency in so that they can become successful college students and workers.”

Chapter 1 of “Teaching Literacy: Keeping Up with the Times” is setting the stage with a historical overview on literacy, stating that “teachers today are using most of the same methods that have been used for the last half of the twentieth century with little upgrade.” This is sad but true and one of the reasons why I really suggest the reading of Patricia Fioriello’s book.

Chapter 2 about “Online Reading Comprehension and Writing” assembles plenty of good ideas to consider when it comes to reading and writing on the internet: technical vocabulary (www), shorthand (LOL), search engines use (limiting results) and navigation issues (hyperlinks). She also critically assesses the virtues and challenges of auto-correction tools in many word processor programs.

Chapter 3 on “Language and Communication” advocates the advantages of cultural diversity and multilingual learning environments when preparing students for a globalized world. The chapter deals not only with idiomatic expressions, translations or the ambiguity of written language but also with the ability to read logos and fonts. Just think of Captcha and the question “Are you human?”.

Chapter 4 deals with the “Paperless World” it and puts it clearly: Although many people are predicting a move towards a paperless world, the truth is quite the contrary: because of printers, fax machines and photocopiers “we are using more paper now than we have ever used before.” Nevertheless Patricia Fiorellio argues that this may be due to a time lag between the appearance of new technologies and the disappearance of older ones. Just think about the big shifts that new recording techniques and later MP3 brought to the way we listen to music. That is why schools today need to prepare students for a paperless future, including the use of digital textbooks, online testing and a changing approach to professional development of teachers.

Chapter 5 on “Different Cultures and Customs: A Global Audience” continues the argument of chapter 3 on language and communication, discussing Globish vs English and the ability of American readers to contribute to the global dialogue. Online readers and writers have to consider their audience, both locally and globally.

Chapter 6 is a follow up of Chapter 4 and discusses in depth the advantages and challenges of “Online Assessments” for students, teachers, parents and policy makers.

Finally, chapter 7 makes suggestions on “The Next Steps” not ignoring that money matters have to be considered. It is about funding and managing the transition process and on how to include the school community.

In my opinion Patricia Fiorellio’s book is an outstanding example for change management at schools!

You can download it at www.drpfconsults.com/Literacy

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W.

With new technology, literacy evolves

It was Louis Braille, a student at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, who modified the French Army’s “night writing”  in 1821 and came up with what is known as Braille today. For the first time in history, blind people had access to a reliable method of written communication, resulting in a signifant rise in social status. Louis Braille was embraced as a liberator.

Braille code where the word “premier” (French for “first”) can be read.

Nowadays, with more and more written words digitized, MP3 players, audio books and screen-reading software are a real alternative for blind people to access and communicate in the written language, without even knowing Braille. A report by the National Federation of the Blind found that less than 10 percent of legally blind Americans learn to read and write Braille today. Back in the 1950s it was roughly half of all blind children.

There has been a big debate whether this affects cognitive development. Moving from the written to the spoken language may have more cultural consequences rather than cognitive ones. It is about losing your own way of communication, and discussing that issue may be as passionate as the debate about cochlear implants and their imoact on the use of sign language, or the decreasing of language variety in general.

But I would rather like to link the developments of Braille and new technology to the learning of reading and writing in schools today. Although for sighted people the transition from written and printed texts to digital representations has been more subtle, it is still remarkable and has important impacts, too. It will probably affect our general view of literacy. With new technology, literacy has become harder to define.

That's how text messaging looked like in 1912. (c) Underwood & Underwood
That’s how text messaging looked like in 1912. (c) Underwood & Underwood

Take penmanship for example: While handwriting was still necessary in the last century for documents, reports, etc., this is no longer the case today. The majority of formal documents are expected to be typed and most people use handwriting, if at all, only for informal notes and reminders. One could question the relevance of learning penmanship at all. A few decades ago, experts even predicted that the electronic age would create a postliterate generation as new forms of media eclipsed the written word. Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher and scholar best known for his expression “global village”, claimed in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) that Western culture would return to the “tribal and oral pattern.”

Do we really need to learn penmanship to be literate people today? The architecture of our brain is flexible. Blind people for instance consistently surpass sighted ones on tests of verbal memory, according to a 2003 study in Nature Neuroscience. Instead of teaching handwriting, it would be more appropriate to teach digital literacy, not least because even standardized tests are employing the new technologies. For example, in 2011, the writing test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will require 8th and 11th graders to compose on computers, with 4th graders following in 2019.

Although one could argue that the question of teaching and testing is only another form of asking: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, I would argue, that even without testing future education will be much more about digital literacy rather than calligraphy. And new technology will not only affect the way we teach reading and writing, but also the way we teach art, music, mathematics, science, foreign languages and literature. I am curious about the new approaches and very happy to live in a global village.

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