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The Answer Is Within The Question

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  It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands.  Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.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.

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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.

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccI 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.

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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:

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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.

 

Is Coding a Trend or a Fad?

 f4f3127d04b10d38d15d86ca2e48fad1Liana Heitin (@LianaHeitin) recently posted a blog from Educational Week, (http://bit.ly/1LG4uG2) on the topic of, “Coding for Elementary Students: A Growing Trend?”  Or, is it a tech fad.  Technology was never designed to replace the teacher.  Technology is a tool not a learning outcome.  Computer and technology companies, like Apple, have been marketing their product not only as educational wonders but having the power to increase learning outcomes.  The results of over 35 years of marketing and sales has only increased these company’s sales and profits.  At the same time as tech industries have increased, educational scores have decreased.  

Back in 1984, IBM, Motorola, and Apple were competing for the computer market.  I had learned FORTRAN, BASIC, and Pascal, and was interested in teaching people how to build, maintain, and program these computers.  In those days, there were no teaching credentials for this topic, so I applied through the El Monte Unified High School District for a vocational credential to teach programming and computer systems.  The State of California did not know what to do with this request, eventually I was awarded a VocEd in Computer Programming and Data Systems in 1985.  I found out I was the first to apply and receive a VocEd teaching credential in computers for the State of California.  

Looking back at all those kids who learned how to program in BASIC and Pascal, they are now today in their 40’s.  Did computer literacy and programming prepare them for Smartphones, iPads, or any of the Social Media we have today?  I would say–No!

Will teaching today’s elementary students coding skills help them 20 years from now?  I don’t think so either!  Grant you, programming offers skills in problem-solving, computer logic, and problem analysis.  However, computers are continuing to be developed in more complexity with intuitive controls.  Apps didn’t exist 10 years ago.  Why do we assume our children will need to program computers in the future?  How many of you out there program your computers, iPads, Smartphones, or other technical devices?  I would assume very, very few.  Today’s kids, as those in the future will be end users.  The majority of students today don’t know how their device works, saves, or runs.  They don’t need to.   

What skills they will need, I believe, is learning how to ask the right questions (database research); Learning a foreign language and culture (Global Community Awareness and Interactions); how to choose the right tool to complete a job (problem analysis); and finally, how to manage available resources (Adaptability.)

Elementary students also need to have strong foundations in mathematics.  They need to know their time tables, understand how to identify patterns, how to communicate (public speaking), and understanding visual symbolism in communications.  Reading (analysis and reporting) is also important to help students as they progress the ladder of education.  Coding is an elective.  Changing a butterfly to a plane on a monitor and then moving it around the screen while changing sound and colors is fun, but what future skills are schools preparing students for?  Technology is becoming both more complicated and intuitive.  Technology will change, that’s a given, but the foundations of math, the Arts, science, reading, and public speaking are skills our children will need in the future, not how to code.

MAKING THE CONNECTIONS || An Invitation to a Conversation

Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet.  I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page.  In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation.  One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse.  In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.”  At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project.  The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York.  I had no idea what was to come next.

The Space Idualringstationslands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g.  By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world.  The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project.  This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet.  To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.

In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  Historical event?!  It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet.  It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.

It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling.  For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?”  This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments.  Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice.  At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter.  The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.

In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online.  I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using.  Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections.  Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.

connectionsfinalSo, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one  2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet.  And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement.  Why?

In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures.  Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.

Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades.  So, has technology become an aberration to me?  No!  For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally.  The first, centers on using technology as a motivator.  That will never happen.  The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.

I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools.  But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products.  It still is.  All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs.  In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas.  Common Core standardization was one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important.  It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.

In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results.  No, not higher standardized test scores!  Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet.  When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.”  What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.”  This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.”  By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs.  But, that’s another story.

Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5  Space Islands image from SI group.