April 06 Journalizing

A new quarter has begun and although I wasn’t ready in time for the first class, this is my catch-up journalizing for week 1.  Here’s what the syllabus says:

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Issue 1:  Is it Time for National Standards in Education?

Yes
Chester E. Finn Jr.,
Liam Julian,
Michael J. Perilli, from
”To Dream the Impossible Dream:  Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America’s Schools”.  The Thomas B. Fordham Institute (August 2006)

No
Lawrence Uzzell, from
”No Child Left Behind:  The Dangers of Centralized Education Policy”.  Cato Institute (May 31, 2005)

The authors make a claim that there are only really 4 approaches that can be taken once you assume that we need national standards.

1.  “The whole enchilada”  the fed controls all
2.  “If you build it they will come”  the fed sets the standards, and provides incentives.
3.  “Let’s all hold hands”  The states build the standards and tests together.
4.  “Sunshine and shame”  Current state standards and tests need to be comparable to the NAEP.

The author compares centrally-controlled education to a soviet command economy.  The author’s solution is to enable parents to exercise more choice in where their children attend school. 

Personal Opinion (before reading):  It is probably naïve to think this way, but I regard national standards as merely an attempt to optimize the planning of what must be done for every student in this whole country for 180 days each school year.  Likewise when it comes to testing, I start from the position that tests are unavoidable for most careers and we should be helping students with test-taking skills.  I have zero faith in other assessments that are not individual, time-based, and summative.

Personal Opinion (after reading):  The argument around unconstitutionality of Federal control of education has some pull on me.  Fundamentally I do not believe that Federal oversight will translate into better standards or more quality instruction in our schools.  I also am not opposed to NCLB especially as it is a driving function of getting data on student performance.  I think the Fed needs to set a high bar, and then enforce methods of measuring AYP or percent of students passing and failing and then empower parents to act on that information.  I think dollar-for-dollar states need to be independent of federal funding so as to drive accountability and efficiency.  That means the DOE probably needs to scale back its presence so that the states end their dependence on federal education dollars.

Issue 16:  Will Increased Use of Computer Technology and Games Be Beneficial to Students?

Yes
Shaffer, D., Squire, K. R., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video Games and The Future of Learning. (cover story). Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105-111. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

No
Lowell W. Monke, from “The Overdominance of Computers,” Educational Leadership (December 2005 / January 2006)

Argues that schools have to catch up with corporations, the government, and the military in recognizing and harnessing the tremendous educative power of video games. Role of video games in providing a glimpse into how we might create new and more powerful ways to learn in schools, communities, and workplaces; Use of video games because they can create new social and cultural worlds; Warning that video games are inherently simplifications of reality and can be based on violent and sometimes misogynistic themes; Question as to how to use the power of video games as a constructive force in schools, homes, and workplaces; Importance of viewing games as activities that are most powerful when they are personally meaningful, experiential, social, and epistemological all at the same time.

Skeptical of the quick and unexamined adoption of computers in education, Monke writes:

“But we don’t prepare children for an automobile-dependent society by finding ways for 10-year-olds to drive cars, or prepare people to use alcohol responsibly by teaching them how to drink when they are 6. My point is that preparation does not necessarily warrant early participation.”

Monke also fears that computers stunt the growth of moral development and the experience of authentic situations.  He writes: 

“Indeed, as advanced technology increasingly draws us toward a mechanical way of thinking and acting, it becomes crucial that schools help students develop their distinctly human capacities. What we need from schools is not balance in using high technology, but an effort to balance children’s machine-dominated lives.”

Monke describes how computer use should be phased in gradually and *after* elementary school and concludes thus:

“I am not suggesting that we indiscriminately throw computers out of classrooms. But I do believe it’s time to rethink the past decision to indiscriminately throw them in. The result of that rethinking would be, I hope, some much-needed technological modesty, both in school and eventually in society in general. By compensating for the dominance of technology in students’ everyday lives, schools might help restore the balance we need to create a more humane society.”

Personal Opinion (before reading):  As a firm believer in the power of technology.  I was mostly interested in what the CON side would have to say to this question.  I was also interested in seeing how much evidence the PRO side could bring to bear on proving the point in question.

Personal Opinion (after reading):  It has been very interesting researching some other publications by Gee and Shaffer.  Their focus is primarily on what they call Epistemic Games, i.e. games that teach thinking and reasoning, not just faster hand-eye coordination.  Of course, neither side would dispute that there are games that are wholly inappropriate for the classroom due to graphic violence or adult themes.  However, Epistemic games on the other hand have a component of realism and use simulated situations that build a players confidence and knowledge which then transfers to other subjects.  And most of all, play as a route to learning, is a powerful thing, I don’t think Monke would disagree with that, he would just caution against using computers all day instead of kicking a soccer ball around in the sun.

For further reading see “Epistemic Frames for Epistemic Games” by Shaffer, and then see their web site for examples of games that they have been testing on students for at least the past 5 years.

I also would like to refer the reader to a New York Times article “Learning by Playing Video Games in the Classroom” which is actually more than just playing games, but students actually learn by designing and building the games first.  That I think is incredibly powerful and would like to see the results for their students.

Evans, D. (2008).  Taking sides:  Clashing views in teaching and educational practice.  (3rd ed.).  New York, NY:  McGraw Hill.

 


 

Teaching to Change the World

Note:  see the web resources for students on this book (chapter by chapter) here

Part I:  The Foundations of American Schooling

Chapter 1:  The American Schooling Dilemma:  Diversity, Inequality, and Democratic Values

Personal Observations:  I am looking forward to following Judy Smith through the book as she has a similar background,i.e. having switched to teaching from a high tech job.

Chapter 3:  Philosophy and Politics:  The Struggle for the American Curriculum

Personal Observations: 

 

Oakes, J. and Lipton, M. (2008).  Teaching to change the world.  (3rd ed.).  New York, NY:  McGraw Hill.

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