US Secretary of Ed Question #3: Preparation for Achievement

3. In what ways can technology help us prepare our children for global competition and reach our goals of eliminating achievement gaps and having all students read and do math on grade level by 2014?

Note: This is the third of four questions being posted. For those in the U.S., Secretary Spellings has asked for ideas on the integration of technology in education. There is a form on the site, but no ability to dialog or even leave your contact information if you fill it out. Therefore, I have created a forum thread for each of Secretary Spellings' questions, and propose that we discuss them here and invite her office to view the dialog on this website and even participate. This is a terrific opportunity to not only respond but to also show the benefit of Web 2.0 technology in addressing this kind of issue.

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There are so many ways that technology can improve reading and math scores. Some of it hasn't been discovered yet, but teaching teachers how to use technology, allowing them to create curriculum that relates to their standards specifically and directly is the key. I think there are two areas to reinforce: standards applied to technology and teacher training.

Standards are essential, of course. We don't have a high bar in most places, and that has to change before technology can impact skill development. In middle school, I find students making essentially the same powerpoint or poster project they were able to create in 4th grade. Our standards for performance continue to be significantly lower than they should be. We have to focusour use of technology on bringing students to a new place, rather than allowing them to merely revel in where they already are.

When we shore up our standards in real time, we can expect technology to impart them. As an example.... student blogging and video blogging is of very mixed quality currently. Just like all writing practice is not equal, not all student blogs being published actually perform a useful service to students. There are a lot of substandard writing efforts being accepted... even glorified merely because they use technology.. Well use of technology alone is not the answer; align to standards. Just like a musician can noodle around for an hour and not really practice, student writers who write without attention to craft are just noodlers... enthusiastic, prolific noodlers... but noodlers who are not getting better just because they are writing. We have to focus on the use of the tool to teach the skill rather than on the tool itself. That means we need to create standards for blogging... Blogging in the classroom has to advance out of the noodle around phase and become an established form of publication...that can be evaluated for research, attribution, mechanics, spelling, thesis development, substantiation,etc. (in other words, focused journalistic blogging that requires use and development of skill, rather than "journal/diaries" with no specific standard and invariably of below average quality.) And blogging isn't only about expression. Students who want to write blogs need to be reading them... and not just peer blogs. Students should be reading journalistic, well written, reputable blogs, too, so that they can model from better writers. not just enthusiastically tread water, while getting nowhere as writers and readers.

The second area that needs to be addressed is training. Teachers need to understand the technology in much more sophisticated ways than they do now. I think real world courses rather than inservice watered down teacher ed courses are the key. For instance, teachers can take courses in web design, flash actionscript, photoshop, video production. When they learn the tools they can impart the information. For example, math teachers can use flash action script to teach concepts in math in a really fun, graphic way. But, first they have to know how to program basic functions in actionscript. English teachers can make videos or on and offline magazines with their students, but they have to know how to use editing software or how to create websites and upload videos. IF we want students to develop skill base from technology use, we have to focus on teacher skill base, not just on infrastructure.
As an educator I understand why we are required to test reading and math all the time. However, also as an educator, I feel that a true collaboration between all curriculum areas will increase student learning as a whole. Too many times when I visit high schools or speak with my peers across the secondary level we say the samething, high school teachers live in their own "worlds" called the classroom. So many high school teachers are just worried about their own classrooms they loose focus on what they are in education for....students. I have participated in several technolog integration grants and professional development programs. I am currently involved in a 1 to 1 laptop program for students 7-12. What I feel the government needs to do is require college education programs as well as school districts to provide technology integration training on a consistent basis. The levels of educators, when it comes to being successful integrationists, is just as wide as the students' levels of learning that has brought on NCLB. But has the government addressed that issue? NO! The government needs to look into programs like Intel's education program as well as LoTi (Levels of Technology Implementation).
One way is through online professional development. I have been facilitating some EXCELLENT courses through PBS TeacherLine on Middle School Math. These courses allow teachers to understand some of the approaches that they are using which might be confusing to kids. Technology allows them to view videos of excellent teachers, to try out math problems in flash or java applications within the website, discuss with other teachers about the problems they have and to share ideas. I think it makes a big difference in what students will be able to do if we can reach teachers and help them understand some different ways of teaching math that were discovered through the video study of the TIMSS.

I think to start off we need to rethink the idea of grade levels. Hopefully by 2014 we will have revamped this relic of the industrial age. If we can provide more authentic learning that engages students the achievement gap will become obsolete, if we continue to demand testing, textbooks and worksheets we will continue to bore our students. I talk with a lot of people in the business community and plead to them to be more vocal about realigning schools to be more focused on the skills that students will need to be successful in a 21st century work environment.

I joked the other day that it would be easier for the work world to adapt themselves to the experience students have in a majority of our schools than having schools adapt to the work environments. Jobs could be based around listening to the boss lecture to the their employees and have them take tests at the end of the day, They would also have to take home the work that they should have been doing at work had they been given time to actually work on it. This is a work world our students would be prepared for.

Realistically we need to let students be involved in social networks that they can provide feedback to each other on their work and use the spaces to collaborate on meaningful projects that are not defined by a specific subject matter. There is still ownership of subjects in many high schools. I am still amazed when I am working with teachers to expand their classroom work to incorporate interdisciplinary approaches and they are getting negative feedback from the English department or the art department that they do not want them to be crossing over into their curriculum focus. These constant reminders tell me that we are still spinning our wheels in place on the road to 21st century schools.

The social networks also need to incorporate professionals that can also provide higher level feedback to both the students and the teachers. Using videoconferencing and any online space that includes forums and the ability to upload media and files can accommodate professionals in the classroom learning environment.



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