Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My New iPhone and iPad

An apology to this group.  All the time I've written about smart phones and iPads recently I have been observing friends of mine using the devices.  I was happy with my Kindle and I have to admit I have read a lot more in the past two and a half years then I might have just using books in print.  But my experience with a smart phone connected to either a Wi-Fi or internet signal was minimum.  And I did not have an iPad or any make or model.  So how could I make recommendations about a product in the schools that I hadn't used?  I couldn't.

So I went out and bought my wife and I two middle grade iPhones.  I thought about going to the top of the line for them but my thoughts recently have been on the concept of "cloud" computing.  I really don't know much about it except somewhere they are storing all that information in what might be called a "cloud".  So the middle iPhone was selected.  

But then I also went and bought the top iPad available, Wi-Fi and Verizon wireless.  Over the years my home system has been Apple and I wasn't going to change at this juncture.  I can and have used Microsoft computers--actually taught on them early on.  I like computers, forget about the brands.  There are some amazing machines on the market today.  What is predicted for the near future is awe inspiring. So I don't want to get into a debate as to which computer, iPhone, or pad is best.  I suspect someone is going to see the potential market in the school systems and design and produce a pad that will be beneficial to the kids....   I'm only sorry that I will not be in the classroom when that happens.  John Dewey and I will be cheering them on.

So, apology accepted?  

But now I am going to make wild statements that have only a few weeks of experience to back them up.  THE IPAD WILL REVOLUTIONIZE THE WAY WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN.  Throw out the curriculum that we have now, it is a new ball game.  The No Child Left Behind tests are totally without value now.  We need to start all over in designing education.  I suspect it must be much like when the automobile was first invented/manufactured.  Those that owned stables must have looked down on this device and said it could only run on roads and we have few roads for it to run on.  It was a changing time in our society.  Well, my friends, it is a changing time in our educational system.

The problem is that changing education is akin to moving a cemetery (many have made this statement so I acknowledge them all).  It takes a long, long time.  I have been a school board member and even among my board peers there was a certain amount of "in my day we didn't have these things in school" attitude.  Our school system moves slowly.

Believe it or not, the slowest part of change in our education system is the colleges and universities.  Cambridge and Harvard, in many cases are still teaching the way they did it in the early 1600s.  Higher education takes pride in resisting change but they will have to face the future at some time.

Recently in the New York Times, there was an article by Lawrence H. Summers entitled, "What You (Really) Need to Know."  (New York Times, January 20, 2012)
Mr. Summers was president of Harvard before becoming Secretary of the Treasurery.  He is presently a current contender to become president of the World Bank.  While I disagree with Mr. Summers on his analysis of women's intelligence I do believe he has said important things about the future of education.  Here are six assumptions (Summers calls them guesses and hopes) that he says will effect education.

1.  "Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it"  Sitting in my easy chair holding my iPad, I have more information that I can access then is in the library at my local university.  I can find out data instantaneously.   I now talk to my iPhone and to Siri and ask, "what is the temperature in Bellingham?  And this voice comes back and tells me the precise degree.  I can google (now a verb) and ask how many people were killed in world war II and find the answer in nano-seconds.  The answers are there before I finish the query.  But how to process this information will be the objective of tomorrow's education.  

2.  "An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration."   YES!  I've been saying for years that learning ought to be done in groups.  My euphony was when I was teaching fourth grade and put the kids into seating groups of four or five students and LEARNING INCREASED even though I required only one paper from each group.  Learning is a process, not a destination and we are a social animal.  I see future learning being done on iPhones with Facebook and tweets being the carrier of that knowledge necessary for the learning objective.

3.  "New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed."  My new ipad has already altered the way I read.  In the technical writing of my present favorite book, "The Dyslexic Advantage" I am constantly holding my finger on a word until the definition is available at the bottom of the screen.  It is soooooo easy.  I have learned many new words.  Yes, I could do that with the mouse on my computer but given the fact that I am comfortable in my easy chair reading it is doubtful that I would get up and go to my computer.  If I want to see a diagram or a picture of some device more closely I just double tap the picture and it becomes bigger.  I can see kids doing this all the time in the near future.  They want to see detail.  

4.  "Not everyone learns most effectively in the same way."  And yet the major type of teaching at Cambridge and Harvard is the lecture method.  In many cases students are asked to use the knowledge that they have just acquired.  This bothers me.  Testing is not the same as "using" the knowledge.  Still percolating in my memory bank is that story in "The Dyslexic Advantage" of the student who obtained his degree from Stanford University by listening to all his books--audio books if you will, and listening at a faster rate then normal speech so that he saved time and still learned.  We have known that students learn differently but we have not changed our teaching methods to any great degree.  It will have to change in the future or the students will by-pass us and learn it somewhere else.

5.  "The world is much more open, and events abroad affect the lives of Americans more than ever before."  I wonder if we have looked inwards toward ourselves in our curriculum and have become sated.  While I have championed  the learning of a foreign language in the grade school, Summers thinks that the use of digital translators and the fact that English is becoming world wide makes that point mote.  Perhaps.  But he does say we need to know more about the world and that our education should mandate our students going to other countries to learn.  That i agree.

6.  "Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the analysis of data."  Interestingly enough in the book, The Dyslexic Advantage one of the advantages is that of dyslexic students being able to see things in data that others could not assertain.  Straight facts are not important......if you don't know how to interpret them.  Just knowing facts is not intelligence.  Making use of those facts is.

I hope this has made you think.  Better yet, go back to the New York Times and read Summers' article.  Well said and well written.  I might not have paid as much attention to it had I not be reading it on my iPad.  

Thanks to all those teachers who question what we are teaching and saying to themselves, how can I make this better for my students.  Nice job, teacher.

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