Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Pondering of Thoughts

Please accept my apologies for the long period of nothingness.  I have been reading articles and books galore and thinking.  The latter is the hardest thing to do at times.  I'm fascinated with myself as I can take the easy way out in my thinking--"keep going as we have in the past."  Then I remind myself of that philosophical sentence...."How many people keep doing the same thing but expect different results."  I tend to fall into that trap.  

In reading the articles and editorials about teachers these past few months I've notice a decrease in those attacking teachers in the public schools.  It appears that everyone in the negative side want to get rid of poor teachers but it also appears that most of those wanting this objective have different criteria as to what a poor teacher looks like.  As I've said, I've seen quite a down turn in negative articles about teachers.

On the other hand, I have seen a number of articles, not quite a trend but certainly interesting, on what makes a good teacher.  I hope this continues.  While a few of these articles focus on the young teachers bringing new ideas to this classroom I hope we don't over look some of the older teachers who have been successful for twenty or twenty-five years.  

Another trend that I have noticed are both articles and television clips on countries that have excellent schools, what they do, and how do the students perform.  I was interested in noting that many of the European schools have a much shorter school day--hard to measure as they include a hot meal and then go into leisure time activities, art, music and in Norway's case, skiing.  However in the asian schools time in the classroom reaches nine hours a day.  I haven't found if the arts are included in the asian schools.  Shanghai (China) has a school that on one test scored higher then any other schools worldwide in mathematics and science but a caution, it is only one school and there appears to be a very large waiting list to get into this school.  Cream of the crop so to speak.  Measuring schools, teachers and students is a very difficult thing as there are many variables to ponder.

I relate all this as I have been pondering as well.  What is a good education?  Is it just things or "stuff" we learn?  What of our society does we want to pass on to our kids?  

I admit with somewhat of a smile on my face of the following things that I have learned in school that is useless, obsolete, and of little or no value.  For instance, I can develop negatives and then black and white prints (far better and quicker with a digital camera and a computer).  I can uncoil hemp rope for sailing ships (they don't make it anymore).  I can use special drawing pens for making of overhead transparencies--well, for that matter I can make all sorts of transparencies which we don't use anymore....We now use PowerPoint Presentations.  So many things I have learned that are obsolete.  I still remember reading in a Boston museum of a parent's letter to a school board complaining of their children using metal nibs for writing--those kids needed to know how to sharpen a turkey quill for writing.  Those metal nibs are in my memory bank as I had to use those same nibs in writing.  I also had a small bottle in the upper right hand corner of my school desk for ink which the teacher had to go around the room filling said ink "wells".  Hence my nick name and the results of some fights on the playground, "Inkwell."

So what should we be teaching our kids?  I also have a passion for what is around the corner, what does the future hold for us in this society?  Reading the book that I have mentioned earlier, "The Dyslexic Advantage," a characteristic of many Dyslexic people is thinking or seeing outside the box.  Many with dyslexia see the world through different eye sight.  I guess I'm one of them.  Not only what should we be teaching our kids but how should we be teaching them.  Or maybe, just maybe we shouldn't be teaching them but guiding them as they teach themselves.  My, what a thought.

I raise this point as I discover that today's recruits in the US Army are given iPhones with learning material already loaded on them.  A recruit has to study the material and then teach the rest of his squad.  

I spend a couple of more days recently in my local hospital for checkups and as is my wont, questioned the nurses, assistant nurses, nurses in training and techies of all sorts as to their training, a form of entertainment for me.  Where did they learn what they do, how could it have been better, what are they going to learn next. One young techie when I asked what would be the side effects of a drug I had just taken, flip out her iPhone and using an app told me the scientific name of the drug, that there were no side effects and it would last some many hours.  

And this is the major point I am pondering--how much "stuff" do my students have to know and how much can they retrieve from the smart phone?  Maybe much of what we are teaching is already old stuff?  

I was reading a sailing magazine lately--I like to sail. At one time I raced my sail boat extensively in the pacific northwest.  One of my crew (besides me) had  to be a navigator, one who could read charts, plot courses magnetically, figure out tides and currents and a hosts of other navigational duties.  In Sail magazine recently someone wrote of a major race on one of the Great Lakes in which the navigator did just what I previously told you--plotted the course, kept track of where the boat was in the body of water, figured out how fast they were sailing--stuff like that.  When he came on deck and announced his finding in a loud voice, much of the rest of the crew reached in to their clothing, pull out their iPhones  and said, "Yeah, you're right."  All the latest smart phones have GPS tracking software and charts.  It tells the owner just where they are, either on land or sea.  I wonder if we need navigators anymore.

So I am going to leave you with an assignment.  It is a complex assignment really.  How should we use technology in our schools?  If all my fifth grade kids had iPads with the web as a source of information, what should I teach?  I have some idea but I want you to think about it first before I write about this problem "...seeking a solution or a discussion."

The following little example is exciting.  When I first taught high school band for a short time, I always had the band tune up, get in tune.  Play an "A"  and see if we all could get the same "A".  Part of my task was to get the kids to train their ear to listen and also to play in tune.  Today's music teachers now have an app on an iPhone or iPad that allows each student playing to tune their instrument to an "A note" and they can see in a graph how close or far off they are.  I suspect the more a music student uses this device the more they themselves will train their ear.  What a thought!

Okay, you have your assignment.  How should we use the technologies in our teaching and what subjects do we need to teach.  Got it?  You can either write me direct: or leave comments after this blog.

And then go thank a teacher who helped you learn to think.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Les, This is exactly what I have been thinking for a while now. When everything is available at the click of a button, what should the kids learn in the school...
    Th answer I got is... Earlier, knowledge was power as it was not freely available. So that had to be taught to the kids. Now with the web world, the scenario is quite different.
    What (information) is available on the net. How to use the information, why do they need the information and what information they should look for and when, is something we need to teach the kids of current generation.
    I have not heard the need for or existence of personality development programs and interpersonal skills training in earlier days because people dealt with people more freely and learnt that as they grew. Today, these have become a necessity, because people have started living and dealing more with machines... So children have to be taught these, focus should be more on these in the schools.
    So using this technology, we need to see how these skills are also imparted to the students and make them more humane, more peaceful and more loving...
    We need to teach students and pose challenges to them so that they think to find solutions and not get that easily at the click of a button.... Underline... we need to LET THEM THINK...