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Has Technology Infused into the Classroom Helped or Hindered Student Learning?

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A 2019 Typical Classroom: Creative Commons 2019

Walk into any classroom today and remove the technology from the classroom and you will find that the layout hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years. Classrooms may have more comfortable student desks and some classrooms have even replaced desks for tables.   Dusty chalkboards have been replaced with whiteboards and even Smart Boards that have Internet connections. Overhead light projectors have been replaced with digital overheads and projectors. Projectors and filmstrips have been replaced with online Internet images and video streaming.  Teachers use their smartphones or tablets to deliver their notes, and student textbooks are now available on iPads, tablets, and even Smartphones via WIFI connections available in the classroom.

School bells still ring or even play music to indicate that a new class period is beginning or has just ended.  Students still have assigned seats. It is the teacher that still delivers the questions with the responsibility of the student to respond with the correct answer.  There is more testing than in the past though, students get pre-tested on subject matters, then they are given quizzes and tests to see how well they have memorized their assignments.  Post-assessments indicate what material was covered and the percentage of students that got it right! School districts, States, and the Federal government all have their tests and assessments, and you would think, with the infusion of all this technology student learning is at an all-time high, but it isn’t.  In fact in general, student polls indicate students are both bored and confused.  Bored with the instructional presentations and confused as to how the system operates and who really operates it.

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Artwork by Villemard (1910) Public Domain

In 1910 electrical inventions were all the rage.  In this same time period, a French artist by the name of Villemard envisioned the learning classroom in the year 2000.  The picture above shows a teacher putting textbooks into an electronic machine while a student cranks the books through the machine.  The machine is electrical sending via copper wires the book’s knowledge to awaiting students in their seats. Note that the students have no need for paper or any kind of writing instrument since the knowledge is going straight into their brains.  Instant learning? Or is it? A machine can possess knowledge but that doesn’t make it intelligent, and humans are not machines. In order to develop critical thinking skills, which only a human can do, the student must build on the information gained and hands-on experience in order to make the connection in either solving a problem or developing a new solution that addresses the problem.

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21st Century classroom envisioned in 1957.  Public Domain

In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite.  In the same year, the United States government enacted the National Defense Education Act.  The purpose of the legislation was to transform schools and encourage high school graduation and college entrance. The comparison of what Russian students were accomplishing compared to their American counterparts made the United States rethink the importance of education as a defense towards future Communistic control. The picture above shows how futurists then viewed the year 2000.  Students would still be in a stereotype classroom setting, now with electronic equipment on their desks with screens and buttons used to input data. Note that the teacher still is dressed in 1950 attire but no longer in the classroom. Television was developing technology in the 1950s and most futurists in this time period saw this form of media as a possible educational platform in the future.  Again, it was thought that technology would solve the goals set by the government. Interesting enough, it was Giambattiar Vico, back in the 17th Century, who realized the problem when the public accepts science and technology as the messiah of education and believing it alone will create the results expected, and then it doesn’t.

It was Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer, who in 1947 coined the word robot from the Russian word Robota meaning serf or slave labor.  The word caught on in the ’50s and was quite popular by the 1960s.

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21st Century classroom envisioned (1965) Public Domain

 

The 1965 comic strip above shows a group of 21st Century students learning math from a robot.  Even though you can’t see the seats the students are sitting on you can pretty much envision the classroom layout.  The bookcase in the background holds reel-to-reel tapes, which was pretty much 1960 technology.

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Modern 21st Century classroom Creative Commons

Today’s classrooms can be more colorful.  Modern classrooms are carpeted with temperature controls to keep a comfortable working environment.  When technology, in the form of computers, was introduced back in the 1980’s students were curious about what technology was all about; however, today a computer or iPad in the classroom brings no more interest than a light switch on the wall.  Teachers are in the classroom but are sometimes replaced by a video presentation or a computer program that students access either through a desktop computer or laptop. YouTube is probably one of today’s students’ favorite platforms to get tutored.  Students are encouraged to work independently to match their processing speeds and learning styles. Electronic tests and quizzes are given but students can retake them until they pass at the mark they desire. But in reflection, is this any different than the 1910 picture of students being fed knowledge and data? What is missing in ensuring students are learning? If technology can’t create curiosity and learning then what can?

So that this blog article doesn’t become a novel let’s cut to the chase.  21st Century technology has succeeded in storing and delivering knowledge at incredible speeds.  There are many tools that can be used today to call up, present, and package knowledge.  But now we come to the question of this article, has technology helped or hindered active learning?

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Student collaboration (adobe licensed)

I propose technology has hindered active learning.   In the K-8th grade levels, students best learn through metaphors, analogies, and storytelling.  Teaching like this helps grow student imagination and understanding.  Students need to learn about identifying patterns and making connections to other similar patterns.

 

Students need to learn collaboration skills when doing problem-solving.  It is amazing how simple tools like pencils, crayons, and paper can help students transfer imagination into reality.  Students need to learn early on how to adapt and become flexible when working in small groups.  These soft skills when developed early help students succeed in more complex projects later along their path of learning.  Students need to understand how to ask a question especially when they are searching the Net using a search engine.  Young students must learn early that technology is a tool and how to choose the right technology (tool) in developing a new solution.

It is the teacher’s job to make sure the students are clear on concept definition and applications.  Teachers can act as guides or mentors helping students to stay on track and monitor their progress.  Finally, students must learn the value of seven key soft skills:

  • communication (verbal and written),
  • adaptability (bringing in new people, working with limited resources),
  • flexibility (the ability to change direction),
  • project management, problem-solving, thinking outside the box, and storytelling (being able to deliver difficult concepts into a story format).

In my next article, I will go over the changes that need to be made with K-12, the three major paths students should have access to, and the assessments that will help guide students’ strengths and talents towards careers in fields that will increase their productivity, inventiveness, and success.   The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice is developing a working model of a 21st Century educational program that will launch this summer. The focus will be on students demonstrating an interest in the fields of engineering and science. For students who can’t afford the summer tuition, we will be setting up a fund for donations to bring in such students.  

Peter Romero, M.Ed.  Academy of LeonardosApprentice.org.  ALA is a 501(c) educational foundation dedicated to improving student education and teacher development.  All donations are tax-deductible under the 501(c) status.

Let Pokemon. . .Go!

 

There is a story of man who was walking through the woods and spotted a target painted on a tree trunk with an arrow straight dab in the middle.  He was amazed at the archer’s accuracy.  He continued his walk and spotted several more trees with targets and arrows shot dead center.  As he continued, he met a man with a bow and arrow and inquired if he was an archer who had made those shots.

“Are you the archer who made those brilliant shots?” the man said.

“Yes, I am.” said the archer.

“I would enjoy seeing you make another shot if you would,” the man replied.

“Sure thing,” said the archer

Stepping back the archer pulled out an arrow from his satchel, attached it to his bow and carefully drew it back as he aimed at an unmarked tree.  Firing the arrow it lodge into the tree.  The archer then picked up two buckets of paints and brushes and proceeded to paint the target around the arrow.

archer

Finding new ways to motivate and engage students is the big buzz in education today. Many of the articles online are about how social technology can be used to solve these problems.  For example, in two recent online articles  from Edutopia,(July 22, 2016)“The Educational Potential of Pokemon Go” [http://edut.to/2bfHFPi], and (Aug. 2, 2016), “Pokemon Go…and Global Success Skills) [http://edut.to/2aIhld2] the authors present arguments as to the educational benefits that the Pokemon Go game could have in the Global Community.  The readership is encouraged to download the game, play with it, and figure out ways on how to incorporate it into a lesson plan or curriculum.  This is what I call, “Painting the target around the arrow.”  

Can Pokemon build reading skills?  It’s looking for virtual characters, so the answer is no. Will it help students better understand mathematics?  Again the answer is no.  What about language skills?  Not there either.  So how does this game build real-life skills?  The authors never say how the game will do this.  Why?  Because Pokemon Go does not address any important learning issues–it’s a game!

Many of today’s educational digital games are no more than electronic flashcards. Pokemon Go offers no learning challenges it’s quite intuitive to learn.  As for strategies, the only one I can see is not getting hit by a car while crossing a busy intersection, or falling into an open manhole while scanning for images from the user’s phone.  

The authors imply that this game can make students better global citizens?  Really?  Does it teach about multiculturalism?  Foreign languages?   Social issues?  No!    In truth, the game was designed to make money.  But there are some people both in education and in the game marketing industries trying desperately to draw their own targets around the arrow of ‘educational outcomes’ to convince teachers that their product or service will motivate and engage student learning.

There is a thread today that sings that education must be fun in order to learn.  I like it when learning is fun, but real learning is also hard, it challenges, and demands focus.  As educators, we are preparing our students for the real world, not the virtual world.  The successes and points in the virtual world pay no dividends in the real world.  As teachers in the classroom, our job is to encourage leadership, teach students how to question, how to evaluate failure and how to find alternative options.  Our quest is to open the minds of our students to the future where they will be interacting, working, raising a family, making a living, and contributing as a responsible and productive citizen in the Global Community.

In conclusion, games like Pokemon will probably not be here twenty years from now with the evolution of technology and gaming theories.   But the language, math, and thinking skills will be required to survive.   To modify a line from Gladiator, “What we teach today echoes in eternity!”

I encourage and welcome comments on this and any article posted.

 

 

Tools of the Trade 2

teachingtoolsBack in the 1990’s, the boys at the high school I worked at carried all their textbooks, notebooks, pencils and calculators in large duffle bags.  They had access to a locker, but students felt carrying their locker in one bag from class to class was better.  In any case, they got their weight training in early.  It was during this time the Dean of Technology, Dr. Jerry Waite, and myself were looking into e-books, originally called, “e-readers.”  This was pre-kindle.  We both came to the early conclusion that if educational publishers ever took on the task of converting traditional paper textbooks to digital this could save a lot of weight.  However, would owning an e-book increase student reading skills, comprehension, and output?  Would it increase literacy?  Would it motivate students to read more?  We weren’t sure.

This article is a continuation in a series I am writing about regarding the Tools of the Trade.  Teachers have access to more teaching tools than any previous generation.  How to choose the best tool for the right job is still an important question.  There is no one tool that fits all.  Hopefully, these articles will open dialog and direction that in the end will benefit our students.

In the world of marketing, both online (Social Media) and offline (newspapers, flyers, and even business cards) media are encouraged in getting the message out.  Likewise, in education it’s important that we embrace the new technologies while continuing to evaluate what we gain and lose with legacy tools vs. digital tools.  Certain questions have come to mind, which I believe are being ignored or overlooked.

Question 1:    What improvements in learning are achieved by integrating new technology into the classroom?

Lest we forget, the classroom is a learning tool, and the classroom as we knew it has been evolving.  Today’s classroom can be a dynamic learning tool for discovery, creating dreams, and empowerment provided we address three conditions:

  • IF, all the elements in the classroom are interconnecting and engaging the
    young learner.
  • iF, the teacher has been well instructed on how to use and integrate the
    technology into the curriculum, and
  • IF, the teacher is willing to push the technology envelope to find more ways to
    reach student learning styles.

exam-20I have read a lot of articles about the “New Skills” today’s technology will teach our students.  But no one has ever taken the time to make a list of exactly what those skills are.  LAUSD spent $1 billion dollars to purchase 600,000 iPads and WiFi infrastructures for it’s school district.  The only public reason given for this purchase has been that the California State Standardized Tests under the new Core Curriculum will now be taken online.  So I thought, what new skills are needed to learn on how to click on a bubble, or type in your answer in an assigned box?

childworkingonipadA week ago, I visited a fifth grade math class.  The teacher had several multiplication problems on her Smartboard that were being copied by students using their iPads.  As I walked around the room I saw student after student using his/her finger to write the problem onto a blank screen and carry out the computation.  Students could use the same finger to erase by tapping on the appropriate icon.  As the students continued to work, I asked the teacher a question, “How has the student learning outcomes improved by replacing pencil and paper for the new digital device?”  She replied, “We haven”t had much time to evaluate that question.” She continued, “However, it has saved our school quite a bit on paper purchases.”  Was saving paper or student growth the most important reason to implement iPad technology into the lesson plan?

The efficacy is further hindered with yearly industry system and software upgrades along with district demands not only to learn the new technologies but finding new ways to integrate them into current curriculums.  All of this creating a learning curves for teachers that are almost vertical on the graph.

So, how is this problem to be solved?  Base on my research, these six foundation questions need to be answered first.

  1. How will the technology being considered improve the content to be delivered?
  2. What projects will be developed from the technology demonstrate student engagement and self-motivation?
  3. How will the technology create collaboration between students?
  4. How will student communication improve?
  5. What creative projects can be created, that will utilize both traditional and digital technologies in solving a unique problem?
  6. How will the technology help to encourage learning outside the classroom?

Second, better assessment tools need to be created, not on the technologies, technologies don’t have learning outcomes, but on student learning outcomes.
Third, programs need to be re-evaluated for school mission efficacy.  Our school missions are the light houses that represent who we are, and what goals we have agreed to work on for the betterment of our students, not state rating or scores.