2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Curtis Johnson in chapters 8 and 9 of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns discusses first the Management and Cooperation strategies necessary to enact change in the education system towards Student-Centric Curriculum then the organizational structure that could make student-centric curriculums effective. In chapter 8 he describes how different organizations have different reactions or agreement percentages to new innovations or technologies. To move toward consensus about the need for change, two things can happen to create agreement: first, there can be initial success from groups using the technology productively and constructively and second, there can be a common conceptual framework constructed about what needs to be accomplished. From agreement, managers need to move an organization to cooperation, for which they have several ‘tools’ to help them accomplish this: Power Tools (direct commands), Management Tools (coordinated attempts at progress), Leadership Tools (charismatic leadership), Culture Tools (consensus for change), and Separation (dividing conflicting groups). Johnson concludes that the best tools for enacting change within the school system are creating a common language or conceptual framework, Power Tools to make things happen, and Separation of conflicting groups within the system. In chapter 9, Johnson highlights how the public school system is slow to innovate because of its organizational structure and how innovative business models might provide solutions. He focuses on the concept of ‘Heavy Weight’ teams or the idea of having groups of teachers who excel at teaching specific groups of students. This way specific groups of students who might struggle in the regular system could be catered to directly with a system that works for them. He suggests Chartered Schools as one way to provide this but also suggests that these teams could be set up within each district as well. Johnson concludes the chapter by explaining how once the teaching system for specific students has been codified, students can begin to be analyzed for what kind of environment would be suit them, and then those processes and findings can be replicated for other districts.


I am unsettled by Johnson’s conclusion that the only way the Public School System will conform to this new kind of thinking about student learning is through coersion and brute force. I am aware that educators are often unwilling to change from their prefered method when they have a system that works for them and I realize that sometimes it is appropriate for administrators to take a direct hand in enacting changes. However, I am not convinced that Johnson’s system is accurate and that it will bring about the desired effect. Forcing educators to change to a new style of education that may not be effective takes away their ability to have a say about what happens in their classroom, besides the fact that it shrinks and limits their responsibilities and presence in the classroom. If curriculum is to be altered to this new style of education, I believe that it must be accomplished through cooperative exploration, with the educators as active contributors to the process. I believe that the best educational system lies somewhere between the current curriculum and the promises of new technology. As for his theory about ‘Heavyweight Teams’, I have no immediate reservations about this process besides the general understanding that it has been tried before and is being tried now. I agree that educators should share strategies that they have found to be effective for specific groups of students with specific educational needs. Also, I think that is appropriate to create schools that reach students with specific motivations. The creation of these ‘Heavyweight Teams’, however, will always be limited by the resources of the district, which may not have the ability to channel funds into these projects with its present responsibilities.
Reference:
Johnson, C. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

Note on Kindle Use:  I have found the Kindle version of the text to be very useful for accessing the text and citing it in my reports.  However, I feel that this is partly because I have a Kindle, which makes reading the entire text easy and comfortable.  I might feel differently about having to use the Kindle version of the text if I had to sit in front of my computer screen to read it.

Real Lives (2010)

For this week’s Learning Tool Exploration, I explored Real Lives (2010), a simulation game created by Educational Simulations™. I first found Real Lives in extension of the discussions I’ve had with others students in EDTC 6431 about the use of virtual simulations in the classroom as a learning tool or resource.
Real Lives (2010) is a virtual educational simulation that allows students to live out the lives of fictional individuals from different parts of the world. The simulation is built to give students information about what it would be like to live in different cultures and climates: what kind of difficulties people from that part of the world face and how they live their lives. The simulation gives the student complete control over how the character lives their life and what choices they make. At any time the student can change any aspect of the character’s life including current work status, if and when they attend school, if they become romantically involved, etc. if those options are available. The student is also given a detailed layout of information about that particular part of the world including ratios and percentages about the political, societal, and health aspects of their community. From these layouts, the students are given an accurate understanding of conditions in that part of the world and are able to empathize with the plight of individuals they would otherwise have no connection to. Real Lives (2010) also has a Google Maps plug in that allows the student to visually explore the area, much like Google Earth. It also gives them access to multimedia that is available from that part of the world through a standard Google search as well as YouTube. The simulation gives a detailed graph of the different aspects of the characters life including happiness, health, and abilities depending on the choices the student makes. The simulation also keeps track everything that happens during the character’s life on a notepad which can be copied and transferred over to Word for later use and reference.
I spent an hour playing through part of the simulation and was only able to get my character to age 29. The simulation gave me a character named Arpad Arpad from Székesfehérvár, Hungary. I led Arpad through his life from infancy to early adulthood, making his life decisions throughout the course of the simulation. Arpad completed Secondary School, but was not able to get into College because of poor test results. The simulation informed me this was because 0% of Hungarians enter into College after Secondary School. Most attend trade schools where they are able to pursue a career. Arpad developed epilepsy, which is common in Hungary, as well as several other members of his family. There were also several members of his family that suffered from food poisoning, which is also common in Hungary. Arpad married after a failed relationship (which the simulation didn’t explain) and failed to have children because of infertility. Arpad and his wife then adopted two children who I named Marvin and Betty (by random selection). Arpad became an Administrative assistant and received a significant income. He also took part in several different types of investments and I was able to chart the progress of each stock through the simulation. Arpad then lost his job due to physical limitations (again not explained) and he was forced to take a job as a food service worker. I was also able to track and choose what leisure activities Arpad did in his free time, which contributed to his overall health and happiness.


I can see this tool being used effectively in schools to help students develop global awareness and understanding about different cultures throughout the world. The simulation gives the student access to a wealth of information through Google which could easily be used to create a project on that part of the world. The most effective use of the simulation would be having students play through the simulation while constructing a project about the character the simulation created. The students could be asked to describe the country and community their character lived in the context of charting the course of the character’s life because of the decisions that they make throughout the simulation. This kind of project would be engaging because of the student choice aspect inherent in the simulation and possible peer competition and would connect the student to a specific community outside of their previous experience. Real Life (2010) can be an effective tool for opening student perceptions to conditions outside of their immediate community to the experiences and life of individuals around the world as a central component of any Social Studies curriculum.
Reference:
Educational Simulations (2010). Real Lives (2010) (Simulation). Accessed and Downloaded August 18, 2012, from http://www.educationalsimulations.com/virtual.html

In chapters 6 and 7 of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Curtis Johnson explores early child development and educational research practices. In chapter 6, Johnson highlights how there is a division between the performance children from middle and lower class homes when they enter the public school system. The problem is the amount of complicated language that children hear they’re developing: whether their parents talk to them in conversational language or if they simplify their language when speaking with their children. This difficulty arises from economic and social issues as well as ignorance about this particular phenomenon. Johnson’s solution to this problem is implementing parent preparation programs at the high school level so that students are informed about these issues before they become parents. In chapter 7, Johnson explains the process of educational research and how it contributes to the creation of best practices. He first argues the reliability of the process, and then explains the components in detail from how the evidence is collected to how they are turned into prescriptions for best practices in schools. Johnson ends the chapter by comparing this process to the history of aviation, where small observations and improvements developed into flight ability. Similarly observations and developments in educational research can result in incredible improvements in education.
These two chapters are a marked deviation from the course and main argument of Disrupting Class so far, which has been to argue the integration of technology and student-centered curriculum into mainstream education. With these two chapters, I agreed with Johnson’s conclusions. I believe that students should be prepared for adulthood and educated to provide their children the best future possible. I also believe that there is strong evidence to support educational research best practices and that teachers need to be informed about recent trends in education. How that ties into the other themes of Johnson’s book and his final conclusion, I am not yet sure.

Reference:
Johnson, C. (2008). Disrupting Class : How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

 

Kindle Note: I’ve found the highlighting feature on the PC app to be very easy to use and easy to access later. The notes and highlights of the book are on a tab that you can access anytime next to the main body of the text, making it easy for you to revisit important points of the text or access arguments or points that you want to include in your writings.

Social Studies Simulations

For my third Learning Tool Exploration, I explored the online learning activities available for Social Studies on the Educational Freeware website. I first found these activities in extension of conversations I’ve had with other students on Google+ about the use of virtual environments and simulations in the classroom.
The Educational Freeware website is an educational site that provides access to and reviews of virtual learning activities available online for class and student use. It categorizes available websites and software into type of resource and subject, allowing educators to quickly access materials that might be useful to them in the classroom. This kind of resource is useful because it provides direct access to educational resources that the educator may not know about. It also provides helpful insight into how each tool can be used and what students will learn by using the particular resource. The website is created by a freeware and shareware author from Sweden who has created this website to inform educators about what educational freeware is available. This means that though she may have knowledge of educational freeware, she is not an authoritative source on the usability of the freeware and sites in the classroom. This means that every educator who uses her website should consider her suggestions in light of their own understandings of educational practice and relevance.
I explored several educational freeware sites that were available on the Social Studies section of the Educational Freeware website. I created and managed my own environmental preservation community group on iCivics.com and learned about different aspects of involvement in local government. This kind of tool can be used for younger grades to help them develop an interest in civic involvement and environmental protection. I also explored oldmapsonline.org and explored their incredible database of historical world cartography. This website could easily be used as an exploration exercise for students where they are asked to compare maps from different time periods for changes in geographical features and landmarks. This kind of exploration would give students incredible insight into how their community has developed over time. I also found a geography quiz website, Seterra.net, which tested your knowledge of United States and World Geography. In contrast to other geography quiz websites that provide very little hints for struggling students, this website provides the student with the name of the city or country that they’ve incorrectly selected when the student is searching for the correct answer. After a few tries, it then highlights the correct answer so that students don’t get discouraged and quit prematurely. I like this because students are constantly seeing the names of countries and cities as they select them. This repetition eventually causes retention as the students develop their understanding of correct placement. The website also allows you to post your scores on Facebook or Twitter, providing an extra incentive for students who might be practicing at home. This website could easily be used for individual student practice or as an in class quiz.
My favorite resource on the Educational Freeware website by far was the simulations on mission-us.org. This website has two full simulations, where students can take on the role of individuals who participate in important moments in U.S. history. I spent two hours completing the first mission on the website and found it to be an insightful and rewarding experience. I took on the role of Nathaniel Wheeler, a young man who has just began an apprenticeship for a patriotic printer in Boston in 1770, right before the events that led up to the Boston Massacre and the war for American Independence. As part of the simulation, I ran errands for the printer, posting notices about upcoming protests of British tyranny, interacted with patriots and loyalists discussing pros and cons of each position, and generally chose the course of this man’s life. The simulation provided in depth information about life in Boston and about the events that led up to the American Revolution. It also allowed you to pick sides and chose what kind of things you said to different individuals sparking diverse reactions. At the end of the simulation, in complete contrast to my convictions, I chose to leave America and sail to Britain with the young English girl that you meet in the simulation. I got the feeling that the creators may have some bias in constructing the options available to the character that might create a pro-British reaction in students, but this can be identified before use of the simulation. Overall, I found the simulation to be an incredible experience and one that I would easily use in my classroom if the technology is available. The website currently only has two simulations: the one that I’ve described and a simulation about a young African American girl in slavery. More of these simulations are scheduled to be released in 2013 and 2014. I would suggest the use of this simulation to any educator as an exploration of factors contributing to the American Revolution. The simulation allows students to participate in actual historical events and helps them develop their perspective and opinion about those events. I see this simulation being an important segment of my American Revolution curriculum.
Sources:
Wartoff, M. (2012). Educational Freeware Website. Accessed August 11, 2012 at http://www.educational-freeware.com/
iCivics Inc. (2012). iCivics Games Page. Accessed August 11, 2012 at http://www.icivics.org/games
The Great Britain Historical GIS Project, Klokan Technologies GmbH (2012). Old Maps Online Website. Accessed August 11, 2012, at http://www.oldmapsonline.org/#bbox=-122.216973,46.714419,-120.217461,47.518104&q=&datefrom=1000&dateto=2010
Wartoff, M. (2012). Seterra Website. Accessed August 11, 2012 at http://www.seterra.net
WNET Thirteen (2011). Mission US Website. Accessed August 11, 2012 at http://www.mission-us.org

In chapter 5 of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Curtis W. Johnson explains how educational technology and the student centric curriculum will advance and change once it is implemented in A.P. Courses and Homeschooling networks. This implementation will cause the technology not only to be recognized as a viable resource but will also cause the products to become cheaper, making it more appealing to school districts. Once these companies have their foot in the door and begin making a profit they will be able to develop their technologies to include new features and for new levels of implementation, causing the education system and curriculum to transform around student centric educational technology.
In explaining this process, Johnson describes three different types of business models to explain education’s current commercial system, which he identifies as largely a value-chain business citing standardized development in the development of educational aids and resources (Pg. 128). He specifically focuses on businesses connected to the education system through their production of textbooks and teacher materials. Software innovation and sales will largely be limited to subject specific development, largely limiting the larger expansions of those technologies and implementation. However, as students and parents begin to use the educational technology, the different uses for that technology will be explored as new users create new processes and products through the use of the educational technology. Johnson suggests creating socially connected technology platforms, where users are allowed to create their own content to add to the program. Johnson argues that if students are allowed to create help tools for other students, student learning will rapidly expand because of their access to understandings recorded by similarly thinking individuals. With this creation of student networks, student centric learning will begin to replace the standard curriculum without having to directly compete with the educational structures that are already in place.


The problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes the educational focus and drive of individual students and a natural desire to learn enriching content. With this system, the value of information identified by the educational community as important to individual development and success in the world after high school is being called into question. With an exploratory educational system catered to student desires and interests, there is very little framework to suggest that students will focus on concepts that are important for them to learn. Johnson’s hypothetical system caters to a generation of students who will exit their educational experience expecting that the workplace will cater to their individual desires and interests, which will not be the case. Students need to experience conflicts with understanding in order to be prepared for adaptation in the real world.
Reference:
Johnson, C. (2008). Disrupting Class : How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.
Kindle Use Note: It is much easier to review and highlight passages from the textbook through the PC app, though a thorough read-through is easier on the Kindle itself. I find that I like to read through the chapter on the Kindle first, then do my highlighting and reviewing on my computer afterwards in preparing my blog post.

In chapter four of Curtis Johnson’s book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns Johnson explains how student-centric education will infiltrate the current educational community. He identifies A.P. classes and Homeschoolers as the best opportunities for implementing new educational technology and student-centric learning models. Once these fields have been developed and the technology has reached its full potential, student-centered technology approaches will be ready to be integrated into schools because of what it has to offer that traditional approaches lack. Students will be ready to enter cyber-classrooms and conduct experiments in cyber-labs online without ever having to leave their homes. Students will be able to learn material at their own speed and will be able to take assessments as they are ready for them. This technology will also solve the teacher shortage problems that the country will be experiencing in the near future as the role of educator is slowly replaced with a learning facilitator.
As I mentioned in my last post about this book, Johnson has failed to convince me that pursuing the integration of technology into the classroom disruptively is the best course for education. Johnson is convinced that poor student motivation and performance can be solved by replacing the current curriculum with educational technology that teaches through the learning strengths and at the learning pace of the learner. This problem, however, cannot simply be solved by catering to the desires and motivations of the students. The problem with student motivation and performance is a complicated social and economic condition in the United States brought about by higher living standards and the availability of communication and entertainment technology. Adolescents today are growing up connected to networks of friends through social networks and gaming technology. Their motivation for becoming an active part of the work force of their community is overshadowed by their desire to stay socially connected. Many of these adolescents also live in families where the parents have enough to support them even after High School or College. In order for this condition in society to be corrected the values of that society need to change. But even this solution is not simple or will immediately solve the problems of motivation and achievement in schools. These problems can only be solved one student at a time, with each student finding an inner motivation to pursue achievement.


Reference:
Johnson, Curtis W. (2008-05-14). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.