Friday, December 17, 2010

How tutoring strengthened my belief that content is not king!

I've been teaching for 20 years this year and I am a firm believer that there is too much emphasis on content.  I see students and my own children often wondering, fighting, and resisting that the information that they are required to learn is unimportant or does not apply to them.  Which then leads to parents and educators struggling to defend the status quo when students ask the following: Why is this important?  How does this impact me? Or how is this helpful?

These questions prompted me to reflect upon a blog post on memorization back in December of 2008: Education 2.0: Never Memorize Again? If you haven't read this blog and you are interested in stirring up the pot in the faculty room, leave a couple of copies by the coffee maker or stack of holiday treats.

So what is prompting this post?  A couple of things come to mind.  A recent question from a student on how to calculate the angle between the hands of an analog clock and my latest experiences tutoring chemistry.

The geometry question is a classic anachronism. The student who was struggling with the concept asked how many analog clocks do you think I see in day?  Now I'm not saying that the concept itself is not valid but the question does appear to be out of sync with the student experience.

With respects to tutoring HS chemistry, it's been a wonderful opportunity to take a step back and look at the vast quantities of info students are required to learn just in this course.  I couldn't help but empathize with my student's musings about why is she learning this. What I found most disconcerting were the follow up questions. What do I need to know? Is there a pattern, a mnemonic, some quick fix to assist her learn the material?

Now I couldn't help but feel sorry for her because so many students are in her shoes. I love science.  I actually would rather watch the Discovery Channel than most sporting events but it seems like she's already ruled out chemistry as anything but interesting and more of an obstacle.

This is far from a unique observation but if I had a magic curricular wand, I would probably cut close to 50% of the curriculum in chemistry and approach the learning through integration with Environmental Science, Biology, and Physics and include experimental design/project based learning and hands on activities that are more topical.  I would stop asking students to memorize the periodic table but ask them to use the info that it stores.  Learn by doing, constructing, and making connections.

I'm not saying that memorization should not be utilized or is not valuable.  I am however hoping more teachers will stop using memorization as a crutch in order to crank through content. It's time to develop new activities, simulations, and opportunities that use the concepts students need to know without forcing them to memorize on a regular basis.  Leverage Tech to assist with learning and with the right balance, the content objectives will be mastered because the affective objectives were emphasized a bit more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Readability: It's Quietube for Print

Websites are just chock full of advertisements, distractions, and at times unsavory content.  To clean up articles, blogposts, or websites, try using the Bookmarklet Readability.  When one goes to the Readability website, one will have an opportunity to select the format for the article, website, or post.
There is a preview option which takes the guess work out.

Here is the setting interface:
The settings selected in the image above are set for newspaper, medium, and wide. Making these selections alters the javascript in the bookmarklet to the desired format.

After selecting the settings, drag the bookmarklet into your bookmark toolbar. To activate, click on the bookmarklet when it's time to clean up an article.

To see it in action, I've included images of an article before and after applying readability.


As one can see, applying Readability cleans up the article substantially and although not visible in the image above, it provides the option to email and print out this version.

Curious about how to clean up youtube clips? Then check out my post on Quietube: Video without Distractions.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blogging about Tweets: Open-Source Texts

I continue to be amazed by the conversations that I have on twitter.  I talk it up regularly but I can't seem to get the majority of my teachers or administrators to dive into this incredibly valuable application.  So instead, I use twitter to feed my faculty and staff with little pearls that are shared by peeps from around the world.  I must admit that when asked where did you find this information or resource, I'm proud to say that it came from my PLN on twitter.

All right I'll get off my soapbox and back to the gist of this post.

In early December, @fredbartels posted a tweet regarding online texts.  Below is a transcript of our conversation.

fredbartels: How do we get the Chemistry teachers together for a day to brainstorm replacements for textbooks?5:33am, Dec 03 from Twitter for iPhone
cuevash@fredbartels How about organizing a series of unconference events to bring folks together? thoughts?5:48am, Dec 03 from Web
fredbartels@cuevash Unconference events to bring folks together is a brilliant idea! Who do we get to organize and fund them?6:02am, Dec 03 from Web
cuevash@fredbartels it may be possible for individual school's to sponsor a certain discipline and have an opportunity to connect w all on the web6:26am, Dec 03 from Echofon
fredbartels@cuevash Seems like a viable approach. What would be the incentive for a subject area specialist to attend one of these?

At this point I fell off the conversation because family life took over.  A few days later we picked up right where we left off.

cuevash6:43am via HootSuite

@fredbartels Realized I nvr responded to ur last tweet re: unconference and incentive 4 subj area specialists.
cuevash6:44am via HootSuite
@fredbartels Hope to gather life long learners who would want to participate in a collaborative effort to develop a superior resource

cuevash@fredbartels for students that is inexpensive and or free, accessible from the web, self managed and updated for accuracy and relevance.6:46am, Dec 11 from HootSuite

cuevash6:49am via HootSuite
@fredbartels it would be great if discipline leaders would emerge to facilitate the process and perhaps dev a standardized format.
@fredbartels @cuevash Brilliant! A compellling rationale for helping with open source 'texts'. Love how Twitter can help distill ideas down to essences.

So where does this leave us?  Well the conversation is certainly far from over but perhaps with sufficient interest, we can overcome inertia and get something started.

Are you interested? Know someone who might be interested?  Then join the conversation but at minimum let others know.

Thanks Fred for the inspiration!