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Liana 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.
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 Islands 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.
So, 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.
Question: What does a 15th Century oil painting have to do with the development of NASA’s Augmented Reality iPad App?
I’m always interested in the connections that today’s digital devices have with history. Take for example, NASA’s Augmented Reality App (http://bit.ly/GA82dS). Imagine printing a simple image from your inkjet printer. Then placing the printed paper on your desk, and then turning on your NASA app and iPad camera to scan the printed image on the desk (fig. 1). Suddenly, as if by magic, up pops up a model of the Mar’s Rover, with the appearance of taking up space and volume, but no weight!? (fig. 2). Finally, you have the ability to pick up the model and view it from 360 degrees, as well as animate many of its functions (activating its’ antenna, or moving it a few degrees.) (see figures 1-3)
Fig 1. Printed paper being scanned by iPad camera
Fig 3: Rover can be turned and viewed in 360 degrees.
As I viewed the image on my iPad and enjoyed the ability to see a 3D image that I could move and maneuver in the palm of my hand I marveled with the science fiction I was playing with. In the palm of my hand was the result of years of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and yet, one crucial element in history had been overlooked. In order to appreciate the full visual affect I was enjoying with this Augmented Reality App I wondered if this was the same wonderment experienced by the few people who saw Filippo Brunelleschi’s painting of the Baptistry in Florence, Italy, 600 years ago. Brunelleschi was a man who was an engineer, architect, artisan, mathematician, and inventor.
Prior to Brunelleschi’s work, artist’s painted and drew in a flat plane with figures that had no weight and sometimes seemed to float in space. Perspective was not important. For example, the castle in the painting (Left) looks like some child’s doll house with no depth, no perspective. The three figures behind the churchman also seem to have no order of depth–no perspective.
Brunelleschi’s work would literally change history and how people would view the world because of rediscovered geometry called “linear perspective.” Without linear perspective today’s video games, movies, holographic projections, virtual reality, and apps like Augmented Reality would not exist. Brunelleschi was the first to introduced the geometry that would gave way to these discoveries and inventions. Using a mirror, he was able to understand how all lines converged to one point. Mapping this information out on a canvas he painted the Baptistry building in Florence, Italy. People were encouraged to view the painting by looking through a hole made at the bottom of the canvas and placing a half mirror at a distance (see figure below) that would reflect the artists work and then give view to the real building. The whole experience had a wow affect. This new discovery would change how artists would paint, and even how maps were to be made. In effect, our 21st Century GPS also has its history to this same event in history. Art is another form of recording data and information, and yet it is many times over looked and shoved aside due to bias and ignorance.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown Those who do not see.” It’s important to remember we see and think in images not words. Technology won’t motivate, but Art has the power to motivate and create, and in the end, isn’t that what we, as educators, are striving for, ways to motivate and encourage our students?
Would you consider a pencil a tool? If you said yes, then it should have its own rubric along with the rest of the technology requirements being given to students today.
I had some fun putting this rubric quickly together. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but so is the idea that technology will motivate students. The 16mm films didn’t do it, nor the filmstrips, even with sound; and when television and VCR’s were put into the classroom that technology didn’t motivate students. VCR were eventually replaced with DVD’s with the same results. Computers are common place today, students are quite comfortable with iPads and e-books. But, math scores are still low, reading is still average, and students are dropping out of school at all levels.
Bill Ferriter, who runs his own blog, recently did a simple hand drawing on the topic, “What do you want kids to do with technology?”, and posted on the Net (which got a pretty good response.) He pointed out that today’s students are motivated by opportunities created by the students not the technology they are using. I agree, and add that the mighty little pencil is still being used by the top designer, architects, and computer leaders today.
Interesting enough during the 1960’s, NASA spent $12 million dollars to develop a pen that could be used in zero gravity. Those pens were eventually sold by Fisher Pens and called, “Fisher Space Pens.” I remember buying one, it cost $1.98, which was expensive at that time. Meanwhile, our competitor for the space race, Russia, invested in pencils and mechanical pencils, and saved millions of dollars. Considering there is no place on our planet that has zero G, unless you are falling out of an airplane and writing your Will on the way down, there is no way a Space Pen can give you any clear advantages or better grades. But, better grades was one of Fisher’s selling points, along with the ability to close sales, think clearly, and clear up acne (Okay, the last one wasn’t in the original marketing makeup).
So, if you agree that a Space Pen, or any pen or pencil will not help you get better grades, what makes you think buying a computer, iPad, or e-book will? Some might say, “Today’s technology has access to the World Wide Web, Multimedia, it’s interactive, it has the ability to cross communicate with all kinds of digital devices, it’s…it’s…it’s a tool!” In the end, it’s simply a tool. I’m open to comments, send them.
This past Sunday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s front page focused on the New and Improved Core Curriculum story titled, “Raising the bar for education.” The article centers on the release of some sketchy details to the new Core Curriculum. I say some sketchy details because they are all still being worked out as we speak. This is equivalent to preparing a full four course dinner, setting the table, and then sending out the guest invitations. A year from now 44 other states are also planning to launch the Core Curriculum. The goal, the article continues, “is to create new benchmarks for mathematics and sciences”, and in the end, they say, “to better prepare students for college and careers.” Of course, the real underlining objective is to increase low achieving test scores and public opinion.
The story continues that in the new program educators will no longer be at the front of the room lecturing, but interacting with their students. So, how is this to be done you ask? By providing the top schools, students and teachers with iPad technology (600,000 iPads). I guess walking around the classroom hasn’t been thought of yet. The article reports that “The project (that is the iPad purchase) penciled out around $450 million dollars.” Good idea to use low tech to explain high tech pricing. Okay, so we know what the better schools are getting, but what about the poorer schools. Thanks to a $1.25 billion dollar infusion from the State of California, these schools will be able to order tablets, desktops, and other technology.
This whole scenario is being played out across the board in both public and private schools throughout the State of California. I recently interviewed for a position at a private school in Los Angeles where the position was to train both teachers and students on their new iPads and Mac Pro laptops. Buying the technology first and then figuring out how it will be used has been going on for a long time. I admire Apple’s move into the educational world back in the 1980’s. It was a shrewd and intelligent undertaking to line up their product into education. But, lest we forget, the Apple Corporation is not in business to educate, they are in business to make one thing, — larger profits.
For the past twenty years, the United States has invested billions of dollars to upgrade technology infrastructures, hardware, and software programs in its school systems. All of this with the promise that the updated technology would motivate, stimulate student interest, increase learning, and in the end improve student test scores. During this same twenty year period, the Programme for Student Assessment (PISA) has been monitoring 52 countries and their educational programs especially in reading, mathematics, and science. From 2001 to 2012 the United States has consecutively placed AVERAGE in reading, and BELOW AVERAGE in the maths and sciences. So, if technology hasn’t increased motivation, stimulation, and increased test scores in the past 20 years, why do the politicians and educators think putting more money into technology will do the job?
But soon I’m interrupted. The article reports, “The technology will help students on the new California state standardized tests, which will be administered online and will reply on in-depth rather than multiple questions.” So, students will learn how to take state tests by taking similar tests in the classroom. “Another brick in the wall.” That means teachers, who will now be called “facilitators” will be guiding students on how to do the test online. Still teaching to the test! The article ends with “the promise that the funds given by the state will cover the cost for Apple to train teachers on their new technologies.” Well, after all, Apple wants their share of the financial pie.
What will the future report? In the end, the politicians will get their votes, the technology companies will report high earnings for their stockholders, and the educational report will remain mediocre. The technology panacea has already had 20 years to prove itself, it’s time that we put the teacher back in the classroom to fix what the politicians and computer companies have screwed up. It’s time that technology take its proper position as a supporting actor, and develop the real core of our future–our students, who should be the apples of our eyes.
Reference: San Gabriel Valley Tribune. (2013). retrieved from SGVTribune.com