Saturday, December 31, 2011

What I Learned about Ed-Tech in 2011

This has been an incredible year for learning for me. I want to highlight some of the most important thoughts, and I'm not talking tech tips! Also, I will end with some of the most important questions that linger in my mind as we head into 2012.

What I learned...

I finished my graduate courses in August, then in early September I started co-teaching at the middle school level. I taught a Digital Media class and a Computer Literacy class, each for about nine weeks. While finishing up those graduate courses over the summer, I became rather idealistic. But it didn’t take long for middle school to snap me back to reality! This was an amazing opportunity to work out a balance between those extremes.

Now that we’re almost done with the first semester, I can see just how much I still have to learn. I have picked up a number of skills for creating meaningful lessons that most of the students will attempt. I have a few students in my mind (some by name and some by their general characteristics) that I simply have not been able to reach, but at least I can see what it will take.

The best example I can offer that speaks to my learning is a holiday slide assignment that I gave the class just before we left for break. I based it on the popular high school game project that I referred to in my last post. For the middle school students we used PowerPoint. Many of the aspects of the project were the same, but I made one very important improvement when I started the project with them.

See, I jumped into the game project with the high school students without setting it in context. I was starting to assume that the creativity alone would be motivating. That doesn't work for students who have been in a more conventional education system for so long. While I and their teacher considered the activity a success, we were not happy with the negative attitudes of some of the students who felt they would not use the skills that they perceived (graphic design and game design, specifically).

In response, I shared these lists below with those students and I think it addressed our concerns. When I started the project with the middle school students, I used the lists right from the beginning. It made a significant difference to put the project in this light.

Important skills addressed in this project:
  • Learn new software
  • Present with text and graphics
  • Research and cite sources
  • Be creative within requirements
  • Process written information
  • Produce quality results

I shared with them how I look for these skills when I work with students. I also used to emphasize these skills in a high school course about success.

Important qualities of any good employee:
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Adapt to changes - Flexibility
  • Do what it takes

Last of all, I encouraged them to form habits that increase their opportunities for success.

These skills, traits and habits will be a focus for me in all future projects.

Big questions that I have at the end of the year...

Are we going to get there fast enough?
Speaking of that balance that I mentioned above, small steps toward the goal are required as we work within budget constraints and conventional systems of public education. The students, at least the ones in the district where I work, are not prepared for a big jump to higher thinking skills. I have had to learn patience as I want to rush toward the ideal. But is there time for such a patient approach?

And another question has lingered in my mind since early 2011. With gaming being so popular for students and with some very promising results of using computer games in the classroom, I feel the urge to use more of it. But I can’t help but wonder, why does it always have to be fun? This actually brings several questions to mind:
  • Why are so many students seemingly only motivated by play?
  • Even if, through play, we can teach them the curriculum, are we doing them favors?
  • Will they really step up to the challenges of adult life when the only road to success is the way of hard work with no fun?

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