Entertaining Education

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week reflecting on Postman’s quote regarding Sesame Street and education. Like Andrew it was a little hard for me to think of because I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with educational tv growing up (at least not that I can remember). This is something that made me think more about my own children and their exposure to educational television. I decided to look into Neil Postman’s quote and found that he provides several reasons why parents embraced Sesame Street. He begins with a very important point and it’s something that I can relate to as a parent.

“Sesame Street” appeared to justify allowing a four- or five-year-old to sit transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time. 

After reading Naomi’s post and some of the comments that follow, it is easy to see that I’m not the only parent who may be able to relate to this. I too have allowed my children to watch Baby Einstein and it started at a very young age. I remember putting my son into his exersaucer and turning on Baby Einstein so that I could blow-dry my hair, or change a load of laundry. It’s difficult when you are the only parent home and trying to run a household with a little one who doesn’t nap when you need them to. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I don’t think that it’s a terrible thing if we let our kids watch tv, or shall I say use the tv as babysitter as long as we aren’t going overboard.

How do we know how much is overboard though? I was surprised when I read some of the stats on how long children watch tv in a week as provided in the first chapter of “Children’s Learning From Educational Television: Sesame Street and Beyond.” It was interesting to read about some of the negatives such as behaviour issues that may arise due to increased tv time. In response to some of the negatives that may arise due to increased tv time, the American Academy of Paediatrics suggested that total tv time should be limited to 1-2 hours per day and eliminated completely for children under the age of 2. I sure hope no one from the American Academy of Paediatrics comes over to my house while I’m trying to get supper ready, or finish my work, or do anything that needs to be done while the kids are awake. That being said, is that ALL my kids do? Of course not! My kids are great at make believe play and entertaining themselves, but I do allow them to watch tv daily with limits.

A big hit in our house is the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Jr. When I first saw the show I was quite impressed with the educational value of it. Commonsense Media gave one episode that we have on DVD a 3/5 stars for educational value. I was a little surprised to see it didn’t rate higher. One thing I really like about each episode is the use of “Toodles” and the “Mousketools”. The mousketools are a set of tools that will be used to solve a problem throughout the show. The kids are asked to problem solve and think critically about the tool that will need to be used to solve the problem. Check out the clip below to see how Toodle works. In addition to Toodle it does teach counting, colours, shapes and social skills.

Postman also suggested that parents felt Sesame Street took care of the education side of things in the household. This is something that I can see in tv shows as well as apps and computer games. Although educational tv does teach some skills, it cannot be the only way that our children are learning at a young age. We need to work with our children to develop reading, writing, critical thinking and math skills.

“Sesame Street” relieved them of the responsibility of teaching their pre-school children how to read.

We cannot expect our children to learn everything they need to learn from an app or tv show. We need to read to our children, talk to them about money, count things, look for patterns, discuss rules of the road…I could go on and on about the little things that we can do that will make a big difference in our children’s educational lives.

Postman finishes by stating that

We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street”. Which is to say…[it] undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.

I can agree with this point to a certain extent. I believe that educational tv, apps and games contribute to the lack of attention that some children seem to have. From a very young age our children are stimulated by these tv shows and games. They find them fun, entertaining and enjoyable. I do think it may develop expectations in these young children about what learning looks like. As Benita mentions, it’s hard to compete with stimulating games and tv shows when students come into our classroom and it’s exhausting to think about Teaching Like a Pirate. I think we all struggle with making ALL learning fun and to be honest I don’t know if that is realistic. However, realistic or not I think it is something that we need to strive for. Do we need to tell jokes, dance, juggle and put on a show? Of course not! But we do need to engage our students and be excited about what we are teaching. If we are excited about what we are teaching, our students will be excited to learn the material.

Am I being too harsh? Is it realistic to think that everything we teach (or learn) can be fun? What happens as we move through our schooling into post-secondary education or onto meetings in our careers? Is there a point that is reached in which learning is no longer fun?

Learning. It’s complicated.

I loved Amy’s intro in her blog this week and I think that we can all relate to the feeling when we start thinking about learning theories. I think that when it comes to learning theories and perspectives things can seem a little overwhelming. But like Amy said, it really isn’t that difficult to understand. If we want to talk learning theories I think they can easily be described in ways that everyone can understand and relate to. I think what makes learning theories difficult is to understand how and when we should be using each theory. Before I go on to try and answer that I think a brief description of each theory will be helpful.

Simply put, behaviourism can be described as learning a response from a given stimulus. Most of us are probably familiar with Pavlov’s Dog and use this experiment to recall how behaviourism works. I am sure that we can all think of a time in our classroom or our own learning experience when learning happened through the behaviourist perspective. If a you were bitten by a dog as a small child, you may be scared of dogs even as an adult. The dog bite was the stimulus and the pain/fear was the response. You were trained to think that way. In school, we were taught to line up after the recess bell goes. The bell was the stimulus, lining up was the response. We were taught to do that. We might use stickers, charts or apps like class dojo to encourage good behaviour in our classrooms.

What behaviourism forgot to take into consideration was the process of learning. This is where cognitivism comes in. Cognitivists are concerned with the way we learn. How do we process and synthesize things? Learning is viewed not as what you can do, but what you know and how you acquired it. Things like graphic organizers, reflection questions and examining the learning are a few examples of cognitivist theory in practice in a classroom. Constructivism was developed next and takes learning from being purely external to more internal. It is concerned with the way students make connections with their experiences in order to relate to what they are learning. With the introduction of technology came connectivism which attempts to look at how learning happens in a social setting through connections. For more on my perspective and thoughts on connectivism check out my post from a previous class with Alec.

Like Roxanne I can think back to my experience as a learning and through my experience so far as a teacher and I can define moments in which each of these perspectives has been used with the exception of connectivism. In my learning experience, I can’t say that there was one learning theory that was used more often or one that I think I learned best from. As a teacher, I don’t focus on any perspective more than the other but I use them all throughout my classes in different instances.

Photo Credit: Yoshi Shih-Chieh Huang Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Yoshi Shih-Chieh Huang Flickr via Compfight cc

As teachers I think that it’s important that we avoid getting caught up in which theory is the BEST theory to use. As Peggy and Timothy mention all the theories are valuable. It is important to think about the learner and what they are learning about. Smaller children learning rules may be better suited towards behaviourist learning while older students might be better suited for a constructivist approach by completing an inquiry activity.

It is important to understand that technology has changed the way we do things. I really liked that Peggy and Timothy went back after 20 years to re-evaluate their article because a lot has changed in 20 years. Although a lot has changed the underlying concepts of the theories has stayed the same.  What matters most is that we are willing to adapt and try to make learning as student-centered as possible. This is the only way we can reach out to students and ensure their learning needs are being met. We need to understand the learner and learning outcome in order to find a learning theory that is best suited for the job. I feel this is something that we all do on a daily basis even if it is done subconsciously. I do know that learning is far to complex to give the award to one learning theory.

Technology does enhance learning, but…

Alright, I have to admit it, I am on the fence for the debate topic last night, but I do think my fence is leaning to the side that agrees with the statement “Technology in the classroom enhances learning”. I feel that there is a large grey area for this debate and I can agree with arguments made from both sides last night. Before I get started I just wanted to send a shout out to the teams who debated last night and say congrats on a job well done. I’m sure it wasn’t easy but you would never know watching you all.

Photo Credit: artorious727 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: artorious727 via Compfight cc

There are many ways that technology can enhance learning and I agree with some of the points presented last night. I agree that there are many ways that technology can help with students who have disabilities, just as there are so many different ways that we can use technology to transform the way we teach, connect and interact with students in our classrooms. When it comes to technology it seems that the possibilities are almost endless. The problem with having endless possibilities is determining which option is best and just how to implement the new technology into your classroom. How do you know if the app will work for your students? Will it benefit your students? What if you want a class blog but have never blogged before? How do you make it all happen?

Which brings me to the next point brought up last night that I agree strongly with – there aren’t enough trained teachers.  So how do we prepare teachers in order to make them more comfortable with technology? For me personally I think that by the time we graduate with our post-secondary degrees we should have a good technological foundation to build on. There isn’t near enough training at the post-secondary level (at least there wasn’t 10 years ago when I was in University). I think I took one education class that focused on technology and it was taught by Alec (big surprise). Technology needs to be integrated into all education classes in some way or another. If we are expected to integrate it into our classrooms when we start working, then we should be taught to integrate it while we are learning to be teachers. If we were trained a little more as undergrads we wouldn’t have to use PD time to learn and it wouldn’t take up as much of the budget to try get everyone trained.  One last issue with teacher training is that in some ways it almost seems impossible to keep up with everything because technology changes so fast. This video gives you an idea of just how quickly things change.

I firmly believe that simply having computers, iPads or SmartBoards in the classroom does not count as successfully integrating technology in order to enhance learning. If you want to use technology there should be a reason greater than just simply using it to say you use it. Students should be benefiting in someway by using it. I wouldn’t consider having students write an essay on the computer as a way that technology enhance learning. It is making learning more efficient and perhaps more convenient which I suppose you could argue enhances learning, but it is definitely not enriching their learning. There are hundreds of websites, apps and ideas that you can use to integrate technology in order to enhance learning. There is certainly no limit when it comes to integrating technology in the class.

I agree that it can be challenging to integrate technology in the class room especially when it comes to time, money, resources and network connection. For some I am sure that the hassle of integrating it doesn’t seem worth it, but I think that we are only hurting our students when we feel that way. Our students are worth it and we need to continue to look for ways to integrate technology so that students are prepared and successful as they move forward. Although it is challenging, the success that students can have outweighs the challenges of the prep and work to integrate it. If it is done properly, technology is an amazing tool that can enhance learning in our classroom.

Connectivism and the Future of Education.

Just like Ashley Dew I have been thinking a lot this past week about what the future of education looks like. I know that technology already plays a part in education, but we still have a long ways to go before we can reach our full potential. We know that technology has made it possible to do things more efficiently than we did in the past. All teachers use technology to do things like photocopying, projecting presentations and updating report cards. But for some teachers – including myself…yes I am guilty – our use of technology stops there. We might use the laptops in class from time to time and we feel good that we are integrating technology in our classroom, but are we really integrating technology into our classroom when we use laptops or iPads? We need to use technology with a purpose. Technology offers us so much more than what most of us are doing with it and the future of education will rely heavily on the use of technology.

One of the biggest advantages of technology is the ability to connect with one another. Connectivism is a fairly new learning theory that will become more important as we continue to move through the digital age. It is based on the idea that learning occurs through networks by making connections. George Siemens discusses connectivism and open social environments in this video. He asks you to think about how irrelevant structured learning is and goes on to discuss why. We don’t really know our students and we decide what they will learn without thinking about what is meaningful or helpful to them. In a typical course a teacher will pick and choose what they want to teach and how they want to teach it. He argues that students don’t understand concepts, they merely memorize them. In an open course as opposed to a structured course the students play a more active role and can learn by connecting with others in the course or even outside the course.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) are designed to learn through making connections with others. Before this week I had never heard of a MOOC. If you’re like me and have never hear of MOOCs before check out this video.

I think that it would be interesting to participate in a MOOC, but I don’t know if we are ready for our students to be left to learning through MOOCs. Maybe it is because I primarily teach high school math I find it very difficult to imagine a course that is highly dependant on learning through connecting with others. I do believe it is crucial for students to make connections with the real world and see how the math they are learning is related and important in that world. There are some classes that seem to need a little more structure than other courses. A MOOC might be a way for students to go beyond the information they are getting in class and further explore a topic that they are interested in. As Henry Jenkins explains there are many students who are participating in online networks and making connections outside of school simply because they are really interested in something. The reason people make youtube videos for example is because they are very interested in whatever they are making videos about. MOOCs might be another way for students to network with others who have similar interests allowing them to learn more through connections.

I came across this video while exploring connectivism. It describes what a networked student looks like as well as the role a teacher plays in this networked students life.

With networked students, teachers work more as a facilitator. Teachers helps students find connections and information but it is the student who is directing their learning. I am torn by the role of a teacher as described in the video. I feel as though our role as teachers in the 21st century will change quite a bit and we will become more of a facilitator in some respects, but I also feel that there is a lot of information that students MUST learn such as reading, writing and math skills. Is it possible for students to learn these skills on their own? With all of the information on the internet today maybe it is? But with so much information on the internet how can we be sure that the information our students are accessing is accurate?

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

I have really been struggling to figure out if education will be able to keep up with technology. Can schools keep up with technology? Technology changes at such a rapid rate that it almost seems impossible to keep up. I feel extremely overwhelmed trying to keep up as it takes time to learn new skills. I struggle when sifting through my twitter feed after not reading it for a few days. I scroll through them quite quickly but feel panicked that maybe I am missing something really valuable. I watch youtube videos or read articles for class and wonder what else is out there that I might find beneficial for class. How can we possibly keep up when everything is changing so quickly? Do our curriculums need to focus more on technology and 21st century skills than traditional skills? Do we need support teachers in the classroom whose job it would be to focus on integrating technology into each classroom? I think that would be a great idea, but I know that financially school systems cannot support that. School systems struggle enough to provide technology devices in their school and have wireless internet that will support all of the devices. I like to think that schools will keep up but it already feels like we are so far behind and not everyone is on the same page. I know that my opinions have changed in regards to technology and I feel like I will be a big advocate for integrating technology into my classroom and school when I return to work. I feel the same way as Jeannine and I am glad that I was able to take this class near the start of my M.Ed program because I think it will serve me well in the future.