Liberating Learning

I just finished reading a book called Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education by Moe and Chubb. It’s a great book that shows you where American education might go in the future, and how some schools are already on the cutting edge. I know the last thing I want to do is show up in my pajamas in front of my computer to interact virtually with students everyday. I need the face to face contact, yet many virtual acadamies are popping up all over the place – some more successful than others. That is one trend of the future. Another trend includes “charter schools that have embraced technology with a passion, showing that even brick-and-mortar schools that look wholly conventional on the outside can be transformed on the inside.” This fits so neatly with my school’s mission which begins: Through innovative teaching in a caring and traditional environment…. The caring and traditional environment, I get. The school is a bricks-and-mortar (literally) school. But inside, there’s a lot of resistance to innovation. To me, innovation means trying new things, be it using technology or a different way of teaching. It also means something different depending on the children you teach. I know I’m going to make mistakes along the way, that’s what happens when you try new things. But my schools values embrace that – “We foster resilience and expect all to search and find, to fail and learn, to risk and succeed in a changing world.” I hope that applies not just to our students, but also to the teachers and the administration.

Teaching in an independent school means that we should be free from some of the stifling government mandates such as required textbooks and pacing charts. A good teacher is going to try to know his/her students well and use a set of tools to reach those kids which may include part of a text. They are going to do their best to customize and individualize. Why do only the struggling students have an IEP? All students should have an individualized educational plan.

It also means going beyond the scripted curriculum or one that comes neatly packaged with a few bells and whistles. Many of these bells and whistles exist for free! It means stepping outside your comfort zone and trying to create some content for those interactive whiteboards and engage the kids to interact with it. Create a website, start a blog, a wiki, whatever – move forward.

If we harness it correctly, according to the authors “information technology has enormous potential for transforming — and improving — the way children learn, the way teachers teach, and the way schools are organized and operated.” This week’s NYTimes had an article about how distracted teens are with technology. Perhaps it’s because they weren’t taught to turn their instant messaging, text messaging, or email notifications off when they need to attend to a task.

Reform in Education is not new, but all it’s done is incrementally increase the pressure to perform on various tests. While countries like China are tyring to emulate the Americans, we are trying to emulate their rote style of learning. In my humble opinion, rote learning isn’t real learning. There’s definitely a place for rote learning; that is if you use that tool later, otherwise it’s pointless.

Here are some of the things the authors suggest as exciting possibilities:

  • curricula can be customized – rather than standardized
  • parents can be more included in their child’s education via technologies
  • data systems can show all who need to be concerned the progress (or lack of it) thus increasing accountability
  • schools can operate at lower costs, pay their teachers more, and have funds left for more technology (which is relatively cheap these days)

How are we supposed to know if technology actually does increase student achievement? The research and evidence is still new, but if used correctly, increases have been shown in student achievement (Marzano 2009).  Students use it much more frequently outside of schools than in it.

The majority of experiences in school with technology for students is teachers using powerpoint to present, and students using the internet to do research. But there’s so much more they can be doing. They can write blogs (contained or completely open depending on the age group), create wikis on subjects that interest them, and the list goes on. If we are investing for the future, we need to stop buying audio books on spinning media and store them in the cloud. We don’t need a server room at our school anymore and teachers need to discover what kinds of tools are available free on the web. I’ve blogged about many here, as well as other blogs that highlight sites like that, and yet many seemed surprised when they see it for the first time.

Technology programs are getting very good at analyzing students with reading difficulties such as fluency and dyslexia and yet, most schools do not have this technology.

I used to use pull-down maps, but now with google earth, we’ve got a model of the earth that we can zoom in and out of and go from place to place. And that’s just the beginning.

There are great short videos on National Geographic, Youtube, among others. Recently, Scholastic.com showed reenactment of a Wampanoag Thanksgiving. Not all kids can go to Plymouth.

The authors continue that scores of tech-based programs “are sold by lots of small entrepeneurial firms including the big three textbook Publishers: Pearson, McGraw-Hill. and Houghton-Mifflin.” There effects are quite modest. Why? Because it doesn’t fit in the schedule and there is not sufficient time to train teachers. Nowhere does it say it’s because of the technology. Besides, a lot of this tech can be found for free on sites like the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.

In the end, nothing increases achievement more than an effective teacher. I believe that today, an effective teacher needs to integrate technology, avoid the politics, and look forward.

Here is something I stumbled upon earlier: 8 Ways Technology is Improving Education.