Friday, September 07, 2007

Preparing our students

Darren had an interesting post about "Empowering K-12 Students Online" that you should check out. It is actually his notes from a talk by Jeff Catania, another Canadian educator. He looks at school mission statments and says, among other things:

Clearly, educational institutions (likely including your own) have made it their mission to prepare students for a changing world—but do they actually do it? Even with significant reform efforts, K-12 curricula have not changed dramatically since the 19th century.

He then poses the question:
Which of the following do you think best prepares our children to succeed in a changing global environment?

• Express y = ax2 + bx + c in the form y = a(x – h)2 + k by completing the square.
• Describe the stages of mitosis – prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase.
• Recognize and use passé composé of verbs conjugated with être.
• Identify by characteristics the major rock types (for example, igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic).

- or

• Handle and compose email.
• Participate in conferences and bulletin boards.
• Navigate and create electronic content in a variety of forms (for example, web sites).
• Use instant messaging.
Obviously, the first set of tasks is much more common in schools than the second set.

At first reading, I thought that this was a really good question. But then I wasn't so sure. In the second set of tasks, there are only tasks. We don't know anything about content. I wonder if email and instant messaging really prepare our students "to succeed in a changing global environment". I would argue that, without some serious thought to the content of those messages and emails, they may not be much more helpful than completing the square.

I think that we need to show our young people how to use these tools in increasingly sophisticated ways. Somewhere I think the question of thinking and evaluating and analyzing have to enter into it. I think we need to be showing students how to interact in a meaningful way with each other and with the online world as a whole.

I guess what it comes down to for me is that we need to be doing a lot more for our students than we are. Technology is a necessary component of what we need to be doing, but I am not sure that technology in and of itself is going to fix anything.

In fairness to Jeff and to Darren, I should make it clear that I don't think either of them believes that technology in and of itself will solve all our problems. I just think that this was the tack that Jeff, as an eLearning Instructional Coordinator, took in the presentation. The discussion that I am envisioning is an offshoot of that tack.

I guess, for me, this is the other side of the coin. I have been thinking for awhile about the need to avoid doing the same old things with the new technology. Darren's post made me think about how we have to use the technology to do meaningful things, not just new things.

It's an interesting post. Check it out.

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