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Back in the 1990’s, I took a course on becoming an info-broker. It was a week-long course where I was introduced to data research, database design, and data retrieval. About this same time, the Internet was evolving with Websites and new technology tools like browsers to surf the Net for information. It was also during this time Vice President Gore created the phrase, “Information highway.” However, the course I took had nothing to do with links to Websites or University libraries. It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands. Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.
In order to access databases of this caliber, one had to have the following three things: First an account and password to access these global information databases; Secondly, a bank account pre-established to pay for the information once retrieved. Pricing varied from a few dollars per hour to one particular database that cost $1,800 dollars for every 15 minutes; Thirdly, the knowledge and skills needed to maneuver in a database to retrieve the information desired as quickly as possible. What I also took out of this course was the importance of two other key elements: Learning how to ask the right question, and knowing where to get the best answer.
Asking the right question was not about asking a typical journalist question (who, what, when, where, why, and how.) But learning how to ask open-ended questions, prioritizing them, and then mapping out a path within a database’s labyrinth maze structure.
I recently just finished a great little book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana called, “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to ask Their Own Questions. This book mentor’s teachers on how to develop the skill in asking the right question. I highly recommend it for those who are interested in getting students engaged and developing a classroom culture whose motivation is self-lit. This is a small book but powerful.
Teaching students how to ask questions and then having them answer their own questions does lead to student lesson engagement. Because the questions are developed by the students who are motivated to explore and discover their own answers. Consequently, doing it this way has another benefit, they retain more information than through a lectures or worksheets.
As for where to look, that takes us into research. Google has become the 21st Century equivalent to the 20th Century photocopying phrase, “I want to make a Xerox.” Boy did 3M, Minolta, and other photocopying companies hate that phrase. Today, you hear, “Google it,” for getting information. Actually, there are 65 large databases on the Net. Even though not as popular as Google many of the databases have links to information that might cut down on research time.
In any case, no matter which database is used by students they still need to know three basic things:
- First, the structure of the database and how information is stored;
- Secondly, logic tools on how to reduce the number of hits and get the best information quickly. Noted that I said the ‘best’ information, not the ‘right’ information. In school, on a test, there is generally the one right answer whether that answer must be spelled out or blocked out on a multiple-choice question; and
- Thirdly, the sources of the information. Understanding where the information came from and the timeframe are crucial to data integrity.
We should also teach students the value of asking the question, “Which database will best serve me?” Followed by, how do I design the best approach to get the information and document it. As for documentation, students should be able to tell you which database they used, where the information was stored, the date of publication and the person(s) responsible. In my case, it was date and time (GMT) that had to be recorded for the unpublished data or information once retrieved.
Every database on the Net has a map along with the logic tools that best serve information retrieval. But, I caution, it still comes down to answering the question, and if the question is not formed correctly, well, as Lewis Carroll put it:
Teaching students how to ask questions and then how to retrieve the information are important skills that all learners will need their entire life. In fact, you might still have a question yourself. You might still be wondering about what was in a database that would cost $1800 dollars\15 minutes to retrieve? If you really want to know, I’ll tell you—for a price. My next blog will tackle strategic ways to help students develop questions through storytelling.
Once upon a time, actually last month, I was asked to speak to a group of university students from the University of the Philippines, Manila, on the topic of Digital Storytelling. The whole talk took place from my home in Southern California via the Net. Digital Storytelling is really no different than any other storytelling except you are using digital tools to compose and create the story. But, storytelling in itself, is a powerful tool that most teachers don’t take advantage of.
It is basically assumed that storytelling is for small children, or for entertainment like movies or plays. It doesn’t belong in an academic classroom. But I argue it does. Back in the 1980’s, Barron Publishing printed a series of math story books. The first was called, “Algebra The Easy Way.” Before “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”, the land of Carmorra existed with its carefree and happy inhabitants. But like any good story, an evil presence appeared to challenge the King and his wizard on solving a problem or losing the kingdom. Of course, math was the answer, and the story moves through a normal series of modern math chapters explaining in a story format how they could answer the Gremlin with math. In the end–the Gremlin lost. However, he returns in the book of Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus. The key was students were completing a journey, an adventure, and learning math along the way. What could be more fun!
I was introduced into math storytelling back in the mid-1970’s at Aviation High School in Manhattan Beach, California. Originally hired as a math tutor, I was introduced to one of the math teachers whose subject was, “Alice in Wonderland.” I was given a copy of the book to read and study. On one page was the story of Alice, and on the opposite page detailed the mathematics that were hidden in the story. I was so intrigued in how Lewis Carroll, a mathematician himself, created a visual representation of what was really quite a set of complicated mathematics concepts.
You have to understand that the mathematics in the late 19th century was quite turbulent. The discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, development of abstract symbolic algebra, and imaginary numbers were all the rage in those cigar and pipe smoked filled rooms as mathematicians continued to argue for some of kind of normalcy away from the madness at hand. Okay, you’re getting ahead of me.
The “Advice from a caterpillar” to Alice creates some interesting results as she tries to figure the correct proportions and positions of the mushroom, where the caterpillar sits on, which will bring her growth and proportions back to normal. In fact, even the “Hooka” that the caterpillar smokes is a symbol of Arabic origin, like “algebra,” which meant al jeer e al makable, or “restoration and reduction.” Al-jrbr in itself a medical Arabic term meaning may “Allah guide me through the unknown,” a medical technique used to restore broken bones. Of course, I am quite aware that during a test students will often pray to be guided through their unknown problems too!
Harry Potter was told to board his train at track 9 3/4. Alice deals with the Mad Hatter’s hat size of 10/6. Actually, 10/6 was not the hat size but the cost for the hat. It stood for ten shillings and sixpence, which interesting enough in late 19th Century England was equal to £300.96 pounds. You would have to be quite mad to pay that amount for a hat. The symbols and math continue to move along throughout the whole story.
Could physics problems be explained easier with a story? How about calculus? I believe, if you really know your subject well, you can tell it in a visual story. Consider it the next time you have a student to tutor, or a difficult concept you must present the class. If you have told a story would you consider sharing it with me?
Interesting enough we already do separate boys and girls. In sports, club activities (the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), some organizations (YMCA and YWCA), even some summer camps are restricted to same sex activities, bathrooms and changing rooms. There are others.
So, if we accept these separations why not at the educational level? Brain and physiology studies show that boys and girls develop at different rates at different times. Why do we continue to insist and expect that putting both sexes in the same classroom and teaching both sexes exactly the same will work?
Alabama has separated the sexes and now has come under attack by the ACLU.
“We understand that teachers and parents want to provide the best education for their children. But coeducation was never the problem with failing schools, and single-sex programs are not the answer,” said Christina Brandt-Young, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These programs are poorly designed and based on pseudoscience and stereotypes that do nothing to enhance learning, and only reinforce discredited ideas about how boys and girls behave” (Leech, 2012).
Single-sex education has been around for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th Century that co-educational classes were being instituted in the United States. In 2005 covering 2221 studies was commissioned by the US Department of Education entitled Single-sex versus coeducational schooling: A systematic review. The review demonstrated positive results and arguments for establishing public single sex classes.
True, every child learns differently. Researcher and educator, Howard Gardner (Harvard University), developed a study and discovered seven distinct intelligences called Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence. These seven distinct intelligences also work differently with how boys and girls perceive their world. The ACLU lawyers have no foundation for their political case. In the last 10 years, there has been a multitude of brain and cognitive research to demonstrate how male and female brains form, perceive their environments and function. The good point that we can all be thankful for are that these are lawyers not educators.
While the fight continues in Alabama, a successful experiment of separating 5th grade boys and girls has shown much success in the Bronx in New York.
The single-sex classes at Public School 140, which started as an experiment last year to address sagging test scores and behavioral problems, are among at least 445 such classrooms nationwide, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Most have sprouted since a 2004 federal regulatory change that gave public schools freedom to separate girls and boys (Medina, 2009).
After working in two all boys private high schools here in Southern California for the past 25 years, I am confident that boys learn better in a single-sex environment. The statistics of the number of boys graduating from single-sex schools, and the percentage of college acceptance letters these boys have received is higher than boys from local area public high schools. These statistics are on record. I would be open to questions and further discussion on this topic.
Leech, M. (2012). Alabama public school separates boys and girls for all classes. The ACLU has a problem with this. Retrieved from http://www.cafemom.com/group/99198/forums/read/17736762/Alabama_public_school_separates_boys_and_girls_for_all_classes_The_ACLU_has_a_problem_with_this
Medina, J. (2009, March 10). Boys and Girls Together, Taught Separately in Public School. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/education/11gender.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
National Association for Single Sex Education. http://www.singlesexschools.org/home.php