January 11, 2011


A recent comment to the BGMSiPad blog prompted me to consider the following: how is technology any better than pencils & paper?
Well…is it?

My instinct is to say: indisputably Yes! But how can we prove this? Where is the research with sample group A pitted against group B - with the former armed with pencils and an abacus, the latter iPads – and group B easily outperforms A?

An entry of ‘Technology vs. Pencils’ into Google yields this as the first return:

H.I.T. Hokansun’s Instructional Technology blog has many suggestions for the implementation of technology into the classroom. Quirky: yes. Ideological: completely. Data driven: questionable. However he raises some interesting questions. For example:

I have a class set of textbooks written in 2009 which say Abraham Lincoln was an anti-abolitionist long before he became President. Supports that claim as fact, with fact. And it’s the only claim the text makes. But is this the only perspective on the issue? A simple Google search of the phrase “was Abraham Lincoln an abolitionist?” yielded 247,000 search results which clearly suggests a wider discourse than one, limited perspective presented in my American History textbooks.

How many planets are there in our solar system? What is the definition of a planet? What is the diameter of planet Earth? Is there life on other planets? What’s the best planed route for driving to the grocery store? What’s my life plan? All questions you could find answers to in a textbook? In a classroom, sure, but a textbook, probably not. Or you’d find answers but are they the most current? Is the information in these questions mutable or dynamic?

Larger questions that are beyond the scope of this post, but however illustrate a larger concept: the educational experience I am interested in being a part of – of cultivating in my classroom – is a discourse. A dialogue. Which is severely limited by a textbook, P.432, under the heading: Educational Experience.

How do I access the modern world, this modern educational sphere with a pencil? Is it possible? Sure. Is it practical however? If I put an iPad at a desk and have a student us Google Earth to explore the ghats in Varanasi as an exploration of ancient civilizations, their experience of the material will be more vivid than any textbook. The links on the side of the page advertising fine Indian silk scarves, travel brochures, Hindu temples will all better equip my students to enter the educational discourse about this topic than they would be able to achieve with the limits of standard text.

Chris then uses maps.google.com to calculate the distance from his apartment in the Bronx to Varanasi. Kayak.com provides him estimates of airfare and hotel costs. Nationalgeographic.com gives him pictures of the scenery. NIH.org informs him what vaccinations he will require to travel to India. My Picasa album will show him pictures I took while in Varanasi. He can email the Indian Ministry tourism for Varanasi – actually correspond with an India(!) living in the oldest ongoing civilization still in existence. By the time he returns to class tomorrow he will have an answer.

When he sits down to the state ELA test in April and considers how to answer an essay question about Mark Twain, perhaps he’ll remember Twain’s comments he made after visiting Varanasi from the Varanasi city website. Perhaps he’ll be able to connect his experience to the world of standardized testing, therefore continuing the discourse, but in a palpable, academic, merited way.

Is this an answer or a continuation of the dialogue?

The month of January the iPad team is considering how to get our iPads into the hands of 100% of Bronx Green students. And here’s my plan:

In Technology we’ve been studying Environments while learning about email, email protocol and practicing email-related features. We’re researching environments and creating & responding to emails about this topic. We have a set of objectives for this unit which I’ll be assessing using a Google Form. Students answer multiple choice, short text and paragraph questions and the Google Form populates a spreadsheet for my records with their answers (more on this here:
http://docs.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=87809). Normally students log-in to their computers and take the assessment using their email accounts. What I’m going to do for all the classes I teach is create an assessment station with 3 iPads. I will have the Google Form displayed on the screen and they will rotate to the station, take the assessment, then return to their desks. This will allow me to have the other students in class working on another assignment: 100%.

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