Sunday, May 24, 2009

Educational Technology and Common Sense

Ask someone to define common sense and you may get similar answers. Ask someone what actions constitute common sense and you get a whole range of activities and these do not all fit into a neat box of common sense. Some of this could be generational as we do form opinions, produce actions of acceptance, based on the code of our teachings by parents and teachers and friends. Take "manners" for example. Good manners we could probably all agree are important for students to learn as they make dealing with people in all age ranges and from all different cultures easier, but manners vary from cultural groups to social groups to economic groups.

This is just one example of how difficult it is to define activities as "good educational ideas." From my viewpoint in the world, it is simply my version of "common sense." When I was teaching math in 3rd grade, I had an after-school club two days a week that was voluntary for any of my students to attend. We used puzzles, games, measured and built bird houses, etc. We cooked at least twice a month in class measuring and discussing the fractions and measurement standards in the recipes. We copied the recipes, and for Thanksgiving, planned a whole meal with everyone participating in donating an item. This was an opportunity to think backwards and figure out what needed to be prepared first, etc. for all of the dishes to be ready to eat at the same time. There was also washing and clean-up as we discussed not using paper or plastic products to keep from adding to the landfills. I spent 15 years in a regular elementary classroom teaching 1st, 2nd, and then 3rd grade, trying to focus on what made sense to teach children basics and provide thinking and reflecting opportunities. In 1984 I used an Atari game machine hooked-up to a small TV to teach time. This game machine became educational with the additional of a tape-recorder that loaded the time/clock game. The students could choose hour, half-hour, quarter-hour, and minutes. Also in use was a cartridge for Logo. This was a simple version to teach children basic programming using a turtle. The turtle moved with the commands that you typed. We used a big green paper turtle shell to put over one student and the class could literally see the turtle move when we gave directions. (Remember to always begin with concrete activities with young children.) This easily transferred to task cards with pictures of the turtle making a box, triangle, other shapes. We were building steps in logical thinking. Some might call this "problem based learning," but it is just common sense to me.

Now I work with technology with the students and staff. My how technology has changed our lives and thankfully, the classroom, too. Our students have a daily, live, in-house TV news program to share simple information while learning about oral communication, some computer jobs, and producing the final broadcast. Our students also use a weather station to compile a weather report and forecast daily. We began with a GLOBE station and recorded this information for 4 years, earning a national award for quality data. We changed to a Davis Advantage Pro electronic weather station that collects data every hour. This data was used in our computer lab for teaching databases. Common sense. This broadcast combines many skills and is an excellent way to share with our students in a real world situation something that they often see at home on TV and have the connection to actual work.--Common sense to me.

Our school also uses interactive videoconferencing (for six years). WOW! This is a biggie! Step back and think about what this means for our children. Our students have access to experts at our state institutions and museums. These folks send boxes of materials to us and our only cost is the return shipping. Can you imagine being a first grader and actually handling a dinosaur fossil! We don't spend hours on the school bus traveling down the highways, we spend time on task in our safe school building. One year's worth of field trips easily paid for expensive equipment, but you can also videoconference with inexpensive equipment. We did this last year with a free camera and free polycom communicator and a laptop. We shared our news broadcast with a school in New Jersey and they shared their broadcast with us. We don't miss out on opportunities because we can videoconference with experts and with other students around our state (Carolina Connections), country (Digital Flat Stanley), and world (Megaconference Jr., Pittsburgh Megaconference, Read Around the Planet). Our students make contact with other classrooms in classroom to classroom activities and projects. They use the school wiki to collaborate on work with other classrooms in our school system and in the world. This is practical experience with writing, oral communication, technology (skills), and learning to work in groups. These are skills our students need to survive in our global world economy. Common sense to me.

Our county talks about "rethinking the possibilities" and I think our "common sense" approach has helped our students to do this by learning in new ways the standard curriculum we need our students to master. Who knows what is next in the technology world or the world where we live? We will continue to use common sense to bridge what we need to teach to the real world for our students.

No comments:

Post a Comment