Tuesday, July 05, 2005

ELECTRONIC SCHOOLS

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In Britain, there has been rising consernation about the situation in many schools. Several undercover stories detailing or filming the mayhem in and outside the classrooms have caused quite a stir over there. In many countries, boredom and disrespect and lack of self control causes breakdowns in the learning process.

From the Telegraph company news:
The girl was ignoring me and playing music on her mobile phone, so loudly that the rest of the class could hear. I kept telling her to stop. Then suddenly she lost control. Standing up, she put her face inches from mine and shrieked: "Don't make me hurt you. I swear to God I will do it."

I was two days into my undercover investigation for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme when this incident happened. It was the first time I had felt physically threatened in school and the feeling stayed with me for a long time. Although extreme, this was the type of behaviour I encountered again and again in the 16 secondary schools I went in to, eventually filming those that seemed to be representative of the problems I saw.
Children always challenged teachers but the trick is for teachers to challenge students...to learn.
In my very first lesson, I spent 20 minutes trying to get children to be quiet, take their coats off, put away their mobile phones and stop hitting each other. Pupils were supposed to be studying for a GCSE exam on earth materials but when I mentioned the subject, one girl shouted out: "I haven't got a clue what earth materials are." It transpired that a staggering 26 supply teachers had taken the class since the start of the year.

I tried to teach them but had been left with no real instructions. In the worst example of this lack of planning, I was handed a scrap of paper with "draw a picture of your favourite food" written on it - that was for a class of 14-year-olds for an entire hour.
Learning for tormorrow. Most students at the bottom are slated for being cut out of society. They will mostly end up either on the dole or in prison. They keep many people employed. Teachers, prison guards, police, courts, newspaper staff, they are the grist in society's job mill. This isn't productive nor good. These are not capitalist jobs or value added jobs. They are just jobs.

The methodology for teaching has barely moved since my grandfather picked up a piece of chalk in front of his blackboard in 1914. Up until ten years ago, he could walk into any university, pull his stem wind-up pocketwatch out of his vest, reset it, clear his throat, and begin teaching, it had changed so little. We are fortunate that some schools dare to experiment with new ways of doing things and I found this story most interesting: From the Associated Press:
An honors student at Ohio State, a kid in a fifth-grade science class in Kentucky and a deaf student in England, all begin their learning experience the same way: with their hand wrapped around a remote control.

Not a TV remote, but rather one that connects a student with everyone else in the class, with the instructor and with the subject at hand.

Hundreds of colleges, high schools and even middle schools are using "clickers" — as even manufacturers call them. A moderator can pose a question and within seconds the respondents' answers are anonymously logged on a laptop at the front of the room.

"This is the MTV era," said Neal H. Hooker, an Ohio State professor who uses the technology in his agricultural economics course. "It's the instant gratification generation. They don't like doing a quiz and hearing the responses in three days. They want to see if they've got it right or wrong right then."

Interwrite, a clicker manufacturer in Columbia, Md., has over a half million remotes in use, most in classrooms.
I always wanted instant feedback when I was trying to learn something. Students are understandably shy about raising the hand and asking for clarification or to start all over again. Yet this is a need. Any method that helps a teacher gage student understanding gets a full hearted hooray from me.
The clicker itself isn't different in size or shape from the one that enables you to switch from "Fear Factor" to "Nova" at home. Software logs the students' answers enabling the teacher to determine if students understand the topic as the topic is being discussed. Teachers can post a true-false or multiple-choice quiz at the front of the room and, within seconds, the students' responses are logged, their scores tabulated and a grade is assigned to each.
I loved flash quizzes when I was a young student. They were very useful for studying for exams. The one problem was grading them. Most teachers had students pass each other's quizzes to each other but then, this did lose a lot of time. And the teacher would see the results much later, too late to act forcefully to reset minds.
More book publishers are tailoring their textbooks to provide exams and quizzes for classes with hand-held remotes to meet the growing demand, said Donald Yocum, a social studies teacher and technology specialist at King Middle School is in rural Harrodsburg, Ky.

Yocum's school has five sets of mutually compatible clicker sets — all won at state or national teachers conventions.

Many clicker-makers hand out the systems as prizes. Their thinking is that once teachers and students see how cool the systems are, the word will spread.

"All of the kids like it," Yocum said. "It helps the ones who don't like the traditional way of doing things, who don't like to sit there and write out their answers on a piece of paper. This way, through an interactive system, they stay engaged."

Many feel that the ideal use of clickers is in larger classes at universities, where sometimes hundreds of students jam lecture halls to hear a distant figure at the front of the class talk in a monotone until the class ends. Clickers are also becoming popular in various business uses, such as seminars and conventions.

"It's not like an hour-long lecture where the professor is droning on and everybody goes to sleep because they don't know what's important," University of Southern California physics and astronomy professor Christopher Gould said. "It lets the lecture turn into a two-way conversation."
Readers of this blog know I am an enthusiastic pro-computer, pro-electronic person. I type way faster than I can write by hand and logging on and interconnecting is so much more brain-friendly than other methods of doing scientific or literary things, I feel as if my mind and body finally are working in tandem, not struggling for dominance with each other or worse, the brain desperately trying to drag the hand around, frog marching it into battle.

My husband is half deaf. He struggled to do well in school despite his disability but he lost a great deal of potential ground thanks to not being able to hear what the teacher said when they turned to the blackboard. Each time, the voice faded to nothing and he couldn't read the lips, either. If he had electronic multi-tasking devices in elementary school onwards, what a difference it would have made.

We have build so many useful tools, like prehistoric humans, we must use them. We are the tool using animals.

Here is another interesting study in the opposite direction: from the BBC:
TV viewing before the age of three was linked to poorer reading and maths skills at the ages of six and seven among the 1,797 children they studied.

The Washington University findings back the US advice that children under two should not watch any television.

But TV viewing among those aged three to five seemed to aid literacy later.
Very interesting. I suspect one problem is the growth of the brain needs socialization more than anything in the very beginning and this means more tactile contact since this is the most ancient part of our psyches. We are, above all, animals. And animal babies need a great deal of physical contact with their mammalian mothers. The same is true of birds. Learning to socialize, identify those nearest and dearest, to be consumed by this process seems very important for the very young. Song birds memorize their songs during nesting time, not as adults. Young mammals learn to get along with siblings and to copy mother for when they must nurture. Namely, we learn how to be mothers during infancy. In humans, being mother is very difficult and complex just like giving birth is difficult due to the large size of our babies' heads. So the learning process lasts much longer but the emotional base is built in infancy.

Without this base, it is nearly impossible to build anything later as studies of severely abused babies show.

Watching TV interferes with all this due to the fact that there is no tactile backup and the attachments are inappropriate, namely, the child isn't memorizing mommy's face or other social details but is being put in a coo-coo bird's cheat whereby the attachment is indifferent to the survival of the baby and indeed, hostile to it. Advertisers, for example, are particularily hostile to the survival of the baby.
Another study in the same medical journal, by Dr Robert Hancox from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, found that children aged five to 11 who watched the most television were the least likely to leave school with qualifications.

Another, also published in the archives journal, of Californian school children aged eight found those with a TV in their bedroom, but no home computer, achieved the worst scores in school achievement tests.

Those without a bedroom TV, but access to a computer, scored the highest.
Heh. My kids had computer games and computers and very little TV watching, actually, by choice. They enthusiastically dove into the interface/active universe without hesitation.

They now teach me, not the other way around!

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