What Makes Sense?

This debate was well done and went through some really important, fundamental issues with education at the moment. The question of old versus new curriculum, especially with the implementation of a system like Math Makes Sense, which emphasizes exploratory learning.

The Math Makes Sense example is the example that is most often used as it stands for the complete opposite of a system that included Mad Minutes.

Photo Credit: Plymouth School District

These two approaches are diametrically opposed: one focuses on memorization of taken for granted facts and the other seeks to unravel why those facts are indeed facts. As an English teacher, I only see from a far removed place the impact of the war of these two schools of fact. As an example, I wanted my grade 12s to move desks into groups so we could complete an activity. So, I asked them to move my 32 desks into nine groups. This task (of creating the nine groups of approximately three or four) was almost beyond them. I had to model exactly what I had asked them. I don’t know if this is symptomatic of the math system or of sleepy grade 12s, but I was entirely taken aback. Perhaps memorization isn’t a dirty word.

The actual question of the debate, “schools should not be teaching anything that is Googleable” is an interesting one in that is anything truly not googleable? During the debate, the case of not being able to google the cure for cancer was given. While I may not be able to google that (because it doesn’t exist yet), I can find 124,000,000 hits about it and in there somewhere I will find out about the progress.


If I am willing to put the work into finding something, nothing is truly “ungoogleable”.

If this is true, then, what skills do students require in order to succeed?

Students absolutely need critical thinking skills (as well as here, here, and here though there are many, many more), as put forth by the agree side. In fact, there are whole industries around teaching critical thinking, just as there are around memorization.

As Pablo Picasso (maybe — no reputable source can verify) said “learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”. Students need to know what the rules are, though from there, it is open. Do students need to know why rules are rules or should they just accept that those rules have been rules for centuries and they will continue to be (except when they’re not)?

Personally, I do think that some amount of memorization is important. I worked a retail job throughout high school and a solid, reliable knowledge of multiplication, addition, division, and subtraction were necessary part of my job performance. Even now, as an English teacher, I still need to do quick calculations about division of students, adding totals, and scaling marks.

Because I didn’t do a system like Math Makes Sense, I don’t know why, on a foundational level, 9×9=81 or why y=mx+b, I just do. I haven’t had to calculate slope in over a decade, but I still know the formula to do so, should I ever be on Jeopardy!. I don’t know if understanding why something is would make me better at math or if it is enough just to know that these, like gravity, are fixed concepts in the universe.

But, I do wonder what kinds of critical thinking skills I missed out on in my more formative years because I was drilled on concepts rather than asked to discover them on my own.

But I digress.

Yes, I do believe schools should be teaching googleable content. However, schools should be teaching it in a way that engenders creativity, critical thinking, questioning, and independence.



Motivational Technology

I went into this debate with a pretty clear idea of what I anticipated each side to argue, but had completely discounted the crux of the against side’s argument: the social aspect of technology. I had expected more of the “video games are ruining our children” argument.

Thumbnail image for Video Games.jpg
Photo via Pennsylvania State

I had completely forgotten about something I find so ubiquitous: wearable tech. I am a pretty consistent user of a Fitbit for almost a year and a half and am consequently much more aware of my every day movement that I was previously. I find that I enjoy the competition against myself, day after day, week after week.

I have learned to be intrinsically motivated. Children and teenagers must also learn to be intrinsically motivated through trial and error (for an interesting TED talk on the power of intrinsic motivation: the famous “marshmallow experiment”). Wearable technology, while it does provide some instant feedback, is about long-term goals. Self-motivation is a learned skill that can be honed through the use of these tools, though there is a fine line between a tool and a toy.

The disagree side of the debate extensively discussed the impact of social media and bullying on children’s mental health. This is a topic that much time and expertise is spent on and it will only increase. As I mentioned last week, apps such as Snapchat, encourage a sense of freedom and of privacy in its users because apparently their photos will be deleted. Which is true to a point: “and we may also retain certain information in backup for a limited period of time or as required by law.” Furthermore, Dr Google has detrimental effects on people’s mental health. Anecdotally, a homeroom student of mine convinced himself that he had diabetes because he had used WebMD’s Symptom Checker  and it told him his stomach ache was something much more sinister. This type of anxiety, supported by technology, has impacts that stretch beyond personal mental health: people who are truly worried and concerned will attend medical clinics and emergency rooms unnecessarily.

In conclusion, I see how beneficial technology can be, but as with everything, it must be used cautiously and judiciously. Strong, personal parameters need to be learned and established in order to guard against the harmful effects a continuous attachment to technology that doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon. Children should be taught, explicitly, how to find balance for themselves. Balance includes the appreciation of nature, as the agree side’s video so aptly put. And, luckily, we have technology to help us appreciate nature.

Debate #1 Debrief

That was intense.

I’ve never worked so hard at multi-tasking than I did during that debate. I do not envy Alec or Katia trying to make sure no one’s voice is lost in the melee.

It was a tough debate. Even though we had to vote, I was completely torn. Each side had very valid points. I think this debate, as an opener, provided us an opportunity to preview the upcoming debates (as Katia said, it was like it was planned this way…)

How my brain felt after the debate. Photo Credit: Chapendra via Flickr

After reading through their selections this week, a couple things from both sides really stuck with me. (For the sake of argument, “technology” as referred to in this blog post is discussing electronic-based ideas. Point well taken, from the debate. Yes, chalk and a chalkboard is technology, but to save time and space, the electronic based technology is the connotation of the word used here.)

Firstly, “Teachers remain the gatekeepers for students’ access to educational opportunities afforded by technology”. This was a striking comment to me, as I hadn’t thought of teachers as a conduit for technology before. Because we’re taught to think of our students as “digital natives” (though this is also a term fraught with controversy: pro digital native and digital native as a myth) who teach us about technology, it is interesting to think that some believe our roles reversed.

The idea of teachers as gatekeepers could have a couple implications, simply by examining the connotations of the phrase. In one sense, it could portray teachers as police officers of technology; those who determine what is and isn’t “good” tech in the classroom (ahem, Snapchat). In another sense, the gatekeeper analogy could mean that free access is allowed, if a toll (read: tool) is paid (used). This could lead into the argument that was brought up during the debate regarding equity of access in technology.

I wanted a picture of a gatekeeper. Apparently, this is a gatekeeper butterfly. Photo Credit: Miles Wolstenholme via Flickr
This is more who I had in mind, though. Photo Credit: Fanpop

Further in the Carlson article, it discusses the need for professional development for teachers to be competent and confident users and dissemenators of technology to students, as teachers are to act as the gatekeepers. This concept was brought up in the debate several times. I believe strongly in PD and I have had the good fortune to witness life-altering PD as well as the misfortune to witness life-draining PD.

Professional development is a requirement for teachers (and I personally think it should expand to every profession), though “good” PD costs money. At this time in Saskatchewan, professional development is frill that can be eliminated (case in point, Regina Public utilizing their core leaders [department heads] to construct and deliver professional development — we’re cheap and accessible) and funds for such non-necessities will be “transformed” out of reach.

However (and who couldn’t see a “however” coming), technology has swiftly (I say “swiftly” in comparison to the entire evolution of education, stretching back millennia) become indispensable in any classroom. From uses such as creating opportunities for adaptation and differentiation that did not exist before to linking up classrooms across the world, technology has indisputably altered the classroom of the 21st century. Because technology cannot be easily separated from what teachers do today, it is simultaneously a crutch and a transformation in the delivery of education. Technology is what we make of it, and unfortunately, as was pointed out in the debate, it moves quickly, too quickly for the giant machinery of education to keep up.

Furthermore, as Ainsley pointed out, despite the seeming ubiquity of technology, this is not the case everywhere. Equal access does not exist and without the money to do so, it will never exist.

So again, it comes down to money, regardless of which side of the debate you are on: money that should be spent elsewhere or in a more pointed direction, or money spent to enhance what already accessible.

I still don’t know where I stand on this debate. I understand the necessity of teaching our students skills regarding proper and effective use of technology because if we don’t, who will? But, I also see the opposite. Technology can create insurmountable barriers of elitism. Technology has become a stand-in marker for being “civilized”, which is probably what bothers me the most about technology being out of reach for so many. Before I get on my social justice soapbox, I’ll conclude by congratulating both teams. It was a hard-fought battle, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who had trouble deciding what I thought was a foregone conclusion, though it turned out to be anything but due to your debating skills. Kudos.

TL;DR: This debate left me unsure of my stance.Nice going, debaters. Tech is good and bad. Tech depends a lot on money and people.

One does not simply write a blog post without a meme.

To start off, which may sound like a typical self-effacing comment, I’m not terribly good at writing about myself. Maybe it’s because I spent all of my undergraduate essays talking about someone else?

Ask me to write an essay about literature and I’m your gal.

Autobiographical things? Forget it.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, here’s a not so complete list of who I am and why I would want to take an Edtech class in the middle of spring.

For context about me, I’m a mom to an (almost) two-year-old boy, Eoin. My husband, also a teacher, works at Leboldus. I, however, work at their archenemy, Campbell Collegiate (go Tartans!).

I am a political animal. Nothing makes me happier than a good election. In fact, my favourite TV show ever is The West Wing.If you can do the Jackal, you’d be my very best friend.

Photo Credit: Kelsie Lenihan via Meme Generator

In my spare time, I garden, but this weather is making that very difficult. What this weather does allow is more time for my other (English teacher-obligatory) love, reading. I can hear your shock and surprise now. I’m a giant book nerd. I literally wore out two ebook readers and am now on a third (so far, it’s holding up). I have a (not so active anymore) Goodreads account, which I find invaluable at helping me discover new books.

Other than that, my whole family lives in the Ottawa Valley, which isn’t always awesome, but it does make for some great vacations. (If you’ve clicked on the link, zoom waaaaaaay out and you’ll see Ottawa to the north and Kingston to the south.)

As for what I’m paid to do, I teach English Language Arts, by and large. I teach all grades in high school and honestly, I don’t think I have a favourite course to teach. They’re all my favourite at the time.

Onto why I’m taking this course. To be fair, it’s because I need EC&I classes to get my Masters. However, I’ve always been interested in tech. In high school, I worked at (the now defunct) Future Shop and that jump started my obsession over the latest and greatest. Unabashedly, I enjoy using gadgets and apps and tools. (Speaking of gadgets, if you want to be friends on Fitbit, let me know! It’s been a really cool, motivating tool).

I am excited to see the impact this class will have on my teaching as so many people have told me this series of courses revolutionized the way they approach the classroom and its environment.

Photo Credit: Kelsie Lenihan via Meme Generator