Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Needs a Title

Currently I am reading Will Richarson's Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. In talking about the use of wikis in education he mentions that perhaps we should rethink what we ask students to do in our classrooms.

"But say assign students to do reports on a specific country, Argentina, for instance. All the pertinent reporting about Argentina may have already been done and collected at Wikipedia. So in this case, is it more important for a student to be able to find that information and know how to evaluate it or to know how to repeat work that's already been done?"
(p.60)

Wow! Does this not sum up the whole problem with new technology vs. traditional schooling? As in, if kids can cheat on a test through texting, are we asking the right questions? I have to say, that I work hard to be the best teacher I know how to be. I consider myself pretty competent in working with my students and in trying new ways to engage and differentiate for them, but this kind of pulled it all into focus for me.

An example: My 8th graders have a choice of several projects, one of which is examining the idea of leadership and learning about a specific career of their choice. I started to consider creating a class wiki to publish our work about careers to everyone and then a few questions came to mind...what about the kids who do the same career? What's the second kid who wants to learn about being a lawyer going to "do" since a significant part of our project involves gathering basic info of what a lawyer actually does in a day? If the first student already figures this out and we post it for everyone, does that mean no one else can choose "lawyer" to make sure everyone is collecting new knowledge/doing the same work? Does that mean I start a new wiki at the beginning of each term so no one can "copy"? Okay, that doesn't seem right. Duh! I need to change the assignment to better reflect the collaborative information gathering, editing, & refining process that mirrors the whole point of the read/write web. Whew! What are the implications? Well, maybe I need to have students focus their time on different things. Maybe time is better spent in teaching them to not only locate the information but spend more time deciding on its validity. Maybe, instead of answering a basic set of baseline fact-based questions, students should be sharing about their ideas, interpretations and questions about these careers. Many of my kids meet with or email with a person in their chosen field. How can these experts contribute to our class learning? Then I start to consider...in how many ways am I asking students each term to do the same basic information regurgitation assignment to give us all "common ground" from which to begin higher level/order thinking. Instead of answering basic level factual questions is there a better activity to ensure everyone understands the baseline material without asking them to copy and paste? I think we need to improve on our information hunting and gathering skills (RSS for students...another wow). It all seems so simple and so mind boggling at the same time.

Our classrooms, though now connected more and more through technology, still often operate in isolated, artificial environments, recreating what is new for the student but what others have already done. If we are truly going to prepare students to operate in the world of information, if we want our students to participate in more "real world" learning experiences, maybe we need to reconsider not only HOW students obtain information but WHAT they actually do with it. Guess I'm going to be working on some serious curriculum revision the rest of the summer LOL!

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