Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Sony Walkman keeps you walking"

First a metaphorical model:

I was considering using a still image from the Wizard of Oz for an image of someone behind the curtain running the show, but I really wanted to push the idea of a puppet master. You see, what my problem is with constructionism is that there is this gap. Or maybe it's a distance thing. Either way every time I read about a constructionist implementation there is always a high degree of opacity between teachers, students, and researchers.

Let's go into the readings a little bit for examples. So in this Bers et. al. article about using robotics with children aged 3 and 4. We see Student-Teachers creating robotic tools that are supposed to help the children learn. In one group of 3-year-old's the student-teacher had the children placing a Lego Mindstorm brick, shaped like a heart, which triggered the puppet to move through phases. This taught metamorphosis.
In the next example discussing the life cycle a student-teacher created a rotating disc with a frame that clearly emphasized one of the stills in the cycle. From here students would place these chronologically on a line.
Yes, students learn and are engaged.

But they don't make the connection to robotics, nor are robotics the best use or tool. I have a hard time buying that robotics made a big difference in the student's learning. For all they know these items were pre-existing tools. They do not know that their student-teachers created this curriculum and lesson. They are ignorant of the 'man behind the curtain' pulling the strings and organizing this unit. It seems like this proposed methodology capitalizes on gimmickry. If this seems like an unfair criticism we'll look at another example.

Montemayor et. al. created these neat StoryRooms. They use physical space and encourage students to explore the room's items and create stories using them. Some items were computerized, others not, like chairs and stuffed animals. And students create stories like so:

"“Mr. Mouse, do you know a way back to my house?” Mr.
Mouse replied, “I do not know where your house is. Maybe
you should ask Mr. Koala.” Irene finds and goes up to Mr.
Koala. She sees a green hand next to it. So she squeezes it
and asks, “Mr. Koala, do you know the way to my home?”
(A green light placed next to a snake lights up.) Mr. Koala
said, “I do not know where your house is. Maybe you should
ask Mr. Snake.” Irene follows the green light and sees Mr.
Snake. She asks the same question. Finally, Mr. Snake says,
“Sure, I know just the way. Come, follow me back to your

And I thought of this great De la Soul song called 'Tread Water':

because its practically the same as the student's story.

The findings result that students can contribute more to a story, do a little physical programming, and be more more of an attentive audience than previously thought. Cool.

But I still am not sold that the students knew they were programming. Nor do I think the students had that intention, rather they were playing within a story. Again it feels like the researchers created this unit, with an opacity, and call it learning.

I think the students genuinely learn. I don't think it's the best way to teach. You need to have the right tool for the job. And it must be used in the most appropriate way, otherwise it will be a waste of time and resources, ranging from cost to education.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My girlfriend doesn't know what a wiki is...and she's still smarter than you

Seriously, My girlfriend is wicked smart. She wouldn't want me divulging her GPA or GRE score but believe me, she's doing swell. She's currently in an honor's symposium at her college where they are studying foundational texts in critical thinking, for example the first week they read some John Dewey. The cumulative project for this course is a wiki. Girlfriend (she didn't want her name here so she'll just be girlfriend of GF) then called me and said, "Everyone is supposed to work on the same document online and edit each other. Isn't that weird?"

I responded, "No. That's the benefit of using a wiki."

I'm not trying to rag on GF for not being tech savvy. The point I'm going to illustrate is that technology does not guarantee epistemic knowledge building, nor is technology even necessary in most cases. In lieu of some readings from IUP574 we saw some good examples and some bad examples, and I have been thinking of the pros and cons that I'd like to share, maybe even a solution or two.

First up is ExplanationConnector, lauded as an explanation-driven inquiry tool. EC is a journal, an electronic journal. Not wired to the internet or sharable just electronic. Students are guided from complex overarching inquiries to more narrow and "manageable" questions.

From the reading,
"The explicit links between questions, explanations, and data enable students to assess whether they have answered their current question, completed their current explanation, and provided evidence to support their claims."

My problem with this is there is no bridge moving from So What? to Now What?

I can do the same thing in ExplanationConnector in a well written lab manual. Keeping it all paper and pencil and lowering costs. ....wait a second don't I know someone who is in science, going into veterinary medicine, works in labs, takes lab courses, has never used a computer in lab, and is wicked smart? Girlfriend, that's who! I haven't found anything in ExplanationConnector that goes above and beyond anything someone will do in a lab manual. However, if you do, please leave a comment so we can dig into this deeper.

In another reading we looked at TinkerTools. TinkerTools is inherently different from EC, in that TT's starting premise was to capitalize on the affordances of technology and "how to use computer modeling and simulations to change our view of what it means to understand and engage in science."

Yeah dude, that's whats up!

Furthermore, in TT the researchers were pairing up classes of high and low achieving students to peer review each others reflections. This was super successful. In fact my research team at IU is doing the same thing in English classes. The point here is that they have taken technology to the next step and utilized it a way that could not be replicated without the use of computers.

I know what you're thinking, what about the GF? How is she going to use computers? Can she even use a word processor? yes, yes she can. So she and I are heading to the University of Illinois at the end of February for her vet school interview there. UI has a computer requirement of tablet PCs. As a bonus, they created an information session for interviewees explaining why they need tablets, and the software's accordance's that go beyond what anyone can do in a classroom. You betch'yer tuchas I'll be at that info session, blog post to follow thereafter.

But that is totally reasonable. EC didn't sell me on anything impressive like TT and didn't do anything you can't do well with paper and pen.

A solution I am working on. (Also my model for the week)

"Moving from CYA to CYS"
CYA or choose your own adventure is a genre of text where the reader gets to a crossroad and has to choose an option, from there more options, etc... until the reader reaches a conclusion.

CYS will be modeled simlarly, choose your own simulation. Modeled after a lab setting, readers -now viewers, will watch interactive flash animation or interactive videos and make decisions for themselves, based on available information, and complete experiments and simulations.
How is this more than paper and pencil? Because this software will let you run infinite simulations at zero cost -kind of like NetLogo. This software will also share results of every student, not just in the class but of every student who uses my simulation software. This will be shared on a really cool website.

Just to reiterate a common theme in my models, technology is not worthwhile unless it has high fidelity and can go beyond what you can do in an unplugged class.

Which one has the most constraints? What about accordance's?

UPDATE: Girlfriend felt this post made her look computer illiterate, which she is not. To prove this here is a picture of her using a computer.