Monday, June 29, 2009

Developmentally appropriate

The term "developmentally appropriate technology" refers to the notion that children develop, with different physical and intellectual needs and abilities at different ages. Children are not mini-me's, with the same cognitive faculties as an adult minus experience, facts, memories, etc. Their bodies are going through specific changes, and so are their brains -- they see and experience the world in different ways, and have different learning needs. So everything education-related, including technology, needs to be geared to -- appropriate to -- the child's age. The idea of "developmentally appropriate technology" is related to other "developmentally appropriate practices" in education.

I think one of the most important criticisms of technology in the classroom is that, in many cases, the technology that students are expected to work with is just not appropriate for their level of physical and cognitive development. Some criticisms of educational technology, like poor software, physical dangers, online dangers, and poor integration/application can be addressed through better modeling, scaffolding, monitoring, etc. The criticism that the cost/benefit ratio of new technology doesn't justify the education establishment's infatuation with it is another big criticism, and worth a separate posting. But the idea that a computer in the hands of a, say, 6-year-old is a bad idea, because a 6-year-old not only does not have the cognitive capacity to get the most out of the machine, but that it might actually hurt the child's development is a substantial criticism.

This is a theme in the technology critiques referenced in previous posts. For example, Fool's Gold argues that the "sheer power" of computers "seems more likely to repress the development of important intellectual capacities than to enhance it." (p. 33) Jane Healy writes in Failure to Connect that "computer use, being primarily a two-dimensional symbolic activity, may simply not be developmentally appropriate before the age of seven or eight."(p. 135) The brain-science logic behind this argument, according to Healy, is that the brain "undergoes certain 'critical' or 'sensitive periods in both childhood and adolescence when learning environments exert special kinds of effects and when certain types of activities and stimulation are most appropriate and necessary to maximize mental potential... If we waste or subvert these developmental windows, the losses may be irrecoverable." (p. 27) Important and necessary opportunities for imaginative play, concrete learning, physical activity, and social and emotional interaction with children and adults will be missed while the child is busy at the keyboard. There would seem to be a steep opportunity cost paid by thrusting computers onto students too early, or in the wrong way. (For a quick summary and great pullquotes of Healy's book, see this book review of Failure to Connect).

(Aside: The Waldorf approach to education, which informs Fool's Gold, Tech Tonic, and Oppenheimer, generally frowns on the heavy use of computers before high school. By high school age, teens are cognitively ready for the heavy amount of abstract reasoning, and will quickly pick up the basic computing skills they need for post-high school. The above-reference books agree that computer use in high schools is appropriate, as long as the technology curriculum includes an exploration of how computers work (along the lines of a shop class) and technology's role in society, in addition to learning computer operation and maintenance. Setzer and Monke (2001), also building on Waldorf ideas, in their article An Alternative View on Why, When and How Computers Should Be Used in Education are at the extreme end of the spectrum of technology use in schools, arguing that "they should not be used by children in any form before approximately age 15." Setzer and Monke lay out an ideal technology curriculum, which is of interest.)

But between the primary years (say, up to seven years old / 2nd grade) and high school (say, starting at age 14), that is, from Grades 3 through 8, there is a broad period of growth and transition in the child, with changing cognitive abilities and readiness for new types of learning.

I have not been able to find a technology curriculum that explicitly references a model of child development. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides examples of its National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS) for students that are tiered in grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) in its 2007 Profiles for Technology Literate Students. For ISTE, a kindergartner might "identify, research, and collect data on an environmental issue using digital resources and propose a developmentally appropriate solution." Such an example recognizes that the kindergartner is a mini-me, constrained only by his or her knowledge. For ISTE, "developmentally appropriate" means -- well the way they use it I don't know -- a solution that kindergartners could implement? That uses vocabulary a kindergartner understands? But it does not suggest that a kindergartner sees the world in different ways than older students, that he or she needs to strengthen certain faculties through tactile engagement and physical activity and active, imaginative play that older students maybe no longer need, or need as much.

Anyway, this is my quest now -- to find a technology curriculum that includes a "developmentally appropriate" dimension that is based on a model of child development that recognizes distinctive stages of development and matches technology use to those stages.

To be continued...


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teaching social justice via science and math

These are some notes from a Teachers for Social Justice event I attended here in Chicago way back in March. Titled "Teaching and learning mathematics and science for social justice", the speakers discussed ways that social justice issues have been raised in the course of teaching chemistry and math at the Little Village/North Lawndale Social Justice High School. Again, these are notes, and may be verbatim (or close to) material from the main speakers, Daniel Morales-Doyle, Alejandra Frausto and Rico Gutstein.

What does it mean to teach social justice in science? Science is a way of grappling with identity. It provides a means for students to shift away from solely being consumers of knowledge and culture to also being producers of knowledge and culture. Science can also be used to de-mystify the objects of consumption.

In the chemistry class example, youth popular culture provides the entry point for social justice issues in the curriculum. Scientific concepts and experiments tie in with artifacts of popular culture and their production process (including environmental implications, the labor process, and the political and social conditions of production).

The (ideal) social issue science curriculum needs five components: A reference point to youth popular culture, engaging lab activities, a social justice issue, good science content, and rigorous academic skills. The successful curriculum relies on good pedagogy: clarity of purpose (to help students and their community), high expectations, caring, discipline, a good work ethic, consistency, modeling uncertainty and seeking additional information, passion, enthusiasm. [Discipline and punishment are two different things.] Good pedagogy also values student knowledge ("foreground their knowledge").

For younger science students, teachers can help students visualize what a scientist is (and help them visualize themselves as scientists). Teachers should help students maintain (or encourage in them) a curiosity about the natural world. Teachers should build student confidence in the student's observations and thinking.

The speakers handed out a diagram of "Critical Praxis in Chemistry" that portrayed a cycle on inquiry. The cycle begins with a problem in popular culture. This is followed by learning about chemistry theory to support the inquiry into the popular culture problem. Chemistry theory is supported and enhanced by experiments, conducted in series of threes, or triads. Experiment one introduces a concept; experiment two builds skills, and experiment three has students exploring and inquiring about the unit problem. The learning/experimenting stages may go through multiple iterations. The fourth stage of the cycle comprises assessment and action -- students are asked "to apply their newly constructed knowledge of nature to produce culture that may affect changes in the problems [they] have identified." This in turn may initiate a new cycle of investigation.

The speakers provided several examples of "critical chemistry" in practice. One example, "The Science of Bling", begins with the unit question, "How is the value of diamonds justified by their physical and chemical properties?" The question connects to youth culture through engagement and wedding rings, hip-hop, fashion, and films like Bling and Blood Diamond. Social justice issues include conflict diamonds and the exploitation of natural resources in developing countries. Key chemistry concepts include the chemical and physical properties and classification of matter. For an authentic assessment, students write a pre- and post-unit "Love Letter" to a hypothetical fiance(e) about the issue of a diamond engagement ring.

Social justice issues in math are introduced in a similar way. Math is used to help students understand social reality. Units begin with authentic problems that students encounter in their community. Rico Gutstein described a unit that he did with high school students on predatory lending. The impetus for the unit arose from one student's family facing foreclosure. The math component included concepts like principal and interest, growth rates, compounding, budgeting and so on. Gutstein also described an investigation students did into the 2004 elections which addressed probability and the possibility that the presidential election was stolen (students produced an editorial raising these questions as a result of their work). Gutstein has elsewhere described a unit on racial profiling which incorporated probability concepts. An important element of "social justice math" is that it should tie into the lives of students. [Personal aside - This places an additional burden on the teacher to collect the necessary data and research to ensure a productive unit for the students.]


Saturday, June 20, 2009

What a good Technology in Education program should include

I have just completed another term at National-Louis University (NLU), in their Technology in Education (TIE) program. As part of the coursework, I also finally finished Todd Oppenheimer's Flickering Mind, and it got me to thinking about what a good Technology in Education program should have (and what I think is missing from the NLU program).

First, a good technology in education program needs a solid history (and maybe philosophy or ethics) of technology class. The class would delve into the relationship of humans to their technology, the relationship of technology to social change, technology as extensions of the human body and what that has meant for social development, and some good discussion of the dialectic between technology and mind or ideas (ideas shape technology, technology shapes ideas). Some exploration of the specific relationship between capitalism and technology would be good. Students could prepare reports on the development of specific technologies and their impact. Students should somewhere in the program be exposed to the idea of "appropriate technology", this might be the class to introduce it. Readings might include Mumford, Marx, McLuhan, maybe E. F. Schumacher, also Steve Talbott. The main hoped-for outcome of the class would be for students to understand that technology is developed within a social and historical context, and affects a society in unpredictable and not always desirable ways. The class should discuss "Ten Principles for a New Literacy of Technology" and evaluate the NETS standards. The NETS standards are curiously weak on these topics.

Second, a good technology in education program should have a serious course on the history of technology in education. This class would parallel a history of education, especially in the United States, but with a special focus on technology in the classroom. Obvious authors to read would include Larry Cuban and Todd Oppenheimer. Tech Tonic might fit here also. This class would provide an important context for technology teachers to understand their role in education. The development of the NETS standards could be explored here.

Third, while educational psychology is included in the current TIE curriculum, it should have a special focus on the role of technology in learning. This would include an exploration of concepts of child development, and their implications for technology in the classroom. The fundamental question to address would be what kinds of technologies are appropriate in the classroom, and at what age. The NLU "Cognition and Instruction" course used the National Academy Press book How People Learn, which is okay, but for some reason the course skipped Chapter 9, "Technology to Support Learning" that specifically addressed research findings (which, in the context education research, might be an oxymoron) relating to technology and learning. A Jane Healey reading would be helpful here; also maybe Fool's Gold.

I'm not sure where this should go, but I think serious personal reflection on how one thinks about technology should take place somewhere. Maybe in the context of one of the two classes above. I had to develop a "personal philosophy of education" for a history and philosophy of education class which was a useful exercise; I'm thinking here of a "personal philosophy of technology in education". Or even better, a perspective written at the start of the program, and then at the end of the program. The end-of-program perspective would be an important portfolio artifact. (As a principal, I would want to know a prospective technology teacher's view of technology in education.

I am generally disappointed in the NLU Program, including its conception and its delivery. I will skip the analysis, but offer this possible enhancement. I think programs like this would be more effective if they were organized more like a "work-study" program, and the coursework more tightly bound to our work lives. Assignments in the course work would be actual projects that we would be expected to carry out at our respective school, not in addition to everything else we do, but as part of it. So the school work would also be work work. (As it is now, homework assignments are on top of an extra-heavy workload, and rarely tie in with what is happening at school.) This would require some tighter coordination between our program sponsor, the Office of Academic Enhancement (OAE), the NLU TIE program, the principals at our respective schools, and the students (and we would then really become co-creators of our education). The principals especially would need to be on board, and transcend their perception of their technology teachers as OAE-subsidized tech support personnel (aka electronic janitor). I think there are a lot of possibilities here. Our schools would become more like lab schools for discovering best practices; and our classes at NLU become more like a collaborative forum for evaluating results.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Globalization and charter schools

Below is a link to a paper I did a few months ago for a class on current education issues. I wanted to better understand the charter school phenomenon as an expression of globalization as I have understood it. Here is the abstract:

Education has always reflected the mode of production. "Globalization" is a new mode of capitalist production, capitalism in the age of electronics, with distinctive features and demands. Charter schools, as an education reform, reflect important threads within globalization. First, the reform of educational content and delivery is really a change to meet the needs of globalization for new skill sets. Second, charter schools are a form of privatization, which is an important feature of globalization's demand for new sites of valorization and profit. Third, the network form is an emergent property of globalization, which is expressed through attempts to break down the centralized public school system through charter schools. The debate around charter schools takes place within the assumption of the supremacy of the market and the inevitability of globalization, leading to a set of limited or even false choices. For a real debate on education reform, one must move beyond the narrow confines of the terms of globalization.
I need to work a more on the ideas I think. Comments welcome; here is the link to the full piece: Globalization and charter schools.