April 28, 2011


My favorite phrase from the Robinson video on Divergent thinking is:

'The current system of education was designed and conceived for a different age...the culture of the enlightenment and industrial revolution...intellectual model of the mind (then) says: real intelligence consists of deductive reasoning and knowledge of the classics."

There is so much about this quote I want to take issue with, but for the purpose of this writing about iPads in education, I will speak to the unit of knowledge. What it means to ‘know’ has changed dramatically over the course of the past 50 - even 5 - years. I am college-educated, I have a well-paying job, am in the mean income bracket for individuals my age with my level of education: and yet put me in front of a comparative fraction problem and watch me struggle. Why is this the case? The Internet? That I’ve discarded information I don’t use on a regular basis? That I was properly educated? That I wasn’t a good student in Math? Perhaps all are true. And yet I am able to survive. I am able to navigate the world, write a blog, pay my taxes etc. etc.

So the challenge becomes parsing out what is valuable knowledge versus what is knowledge that can be stored somewhere, for access at a later date, and therein which knowledge becomes less imperative to retain. Do I need to retain the density of mercury, the causes of geothermal induction, the weight of magnesium? Or can I access this when needed and apply my knowledge of systems, technology to enrich my life in other ways? Bloom would say that Remembering is several steps below Applying. Where I can apply my knowledge of physical elements, or apply the knowledge someone else – i.e. the Internet – has stored for me. Which makes me “smarter”?

Ralph’s post about preparing our students for the State test – that this is our reality as public school teachers in New York City in the first week of May, that NOW is NOT the time to challenge our students with how many ways they can imagine using a paperclip – is of equal concern to me. Having been in this race a few years, I’ve seen schools made and closed based on the outcome of the pen & paper produced over the next two weeks. And likewise, NOW is NOT the time to point fingers at the critical necessity of standardized tests in a digital age, how after decades of standardized testing how our students are dropping out of school earlier, completing fewer years of college and making less money than their college-educated peers (and this trend is in a steep decline). Now is not the time.

We are a part of the machine cranking out test-takers (for better or worse), ultimately to keep our doors open. Which, in-turn, provides us greater opportunities down the road empower our students in more creative endeavors. Is there a way to prepare our students for standardized tests using divergent methods? Is there a correlation between divergent and standard methods? If I am training for a marathon, will my beach volley ball game improve as well?

So how am I using my iPads to foster divergent thinking in these weeks? I believe technology aids greatly in developing the learning or learners who are less dependent on the lower items on Bloom’s taxonomy – the remembering specifically – and by virtue of having the information at their fingertips means they will have less of that work to do and more of the higher order – evaluating, synthesis – to do. iPads mean I am able to provide my students with an article about a super ferry in Hawaii with the difficult words in the article defined for them, and ask them to imagine/draw/create a mock-up of a super ferry that would be helpful in New York. The bubble around Knowing just grew. If there is a hyper-link in the article, students are able to open a new page with perhaps more information about propeller dynamics and wind resistance. Project-based, group learning demands this kind of information synthesis, the kind of experiential, collaborative production most similar to “real world” application. One person didn’t invent Google. N.A.S.A. is a team of people. The Miami Heat, Congress, software engineers all work together, pool resources, co-create. The iPad can then become the member of the team with the most ‘knowledge’, the other members of the group capitalize on that and harness what information they have access to and then move into the higher order of thinking.

I was recently in Latin America at a Montessori school located in the jungle with limited technology access. The school is Del Mar Academy (link: http://delmaracademy.com/). Each of the classrooms following the Montessori method was equipped with a set of tools to aid student development, cognitive and intellectual. Their technology was blocks and household tools – which, like an iPad with apps/Internet/tools aided in student development. This hands-on approach of using items like bowls and beads to synthesize learned knowledge of numbers, ratios and proportions functioned much like an iPad: hands-on, visual and tactile, practical and functional. These students differ greatly from my students in the Bronx but seeing the application of learning devices made me appreciate the tech-savvy of my students versus the jungle-savvy of Del Mar students. I have a classroom with Macs and iPads, keyboards and mouses. Del Mar classrooms have bowls and cabinets, wooden blocks and gardens. Each attempting to prepare students for the road ahead of tests, accreditation, employment, fulfillment. And where the pedagogical rubber meets the road in the Bronx is the same synaptic jump occurring in Nosara, Coast Rica. They have tests, we have tests. Our job in this quickly developing world is to place our students in the best possible position to navigate their surroundings in socially/emotionally/intellectually/safely.

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