Posts Tagged issues in education

Why I’m not signing up for an Algebra workshop for teachers

 

I received an announcement about a board sponsored teacher work shop to increase teacher competency in teaching algebra; it prompted this little rant1.

I suspect the workshop  is part of our system’s reaction to the PISA test scores and its mistreatment for political or economic concerns in the media (or just plan inadequate and incompetent) which has lead us to believe that math scores are falling compared to the rest of the world and that this is a problem.  While I strongly disagree with those tenants, that’s not the issue I’m having.  Algebra is part of the curriculum and sure, there are teachers who could stand to build competency in this area.  Teachers who don’t know what they’re doing in math, as in any subject, are likely less effective and therefore waste the time and efforts of their students.  The problem I am having is we are focusing our resources in the wrong stand of math; we are focusing on a strand that will have little impact on our student’s lives and we are neglecting a strand that teachers, as a group, need to build competency in.

Many people frustratingly argue or express dissatisfaction with math because they fail to see its relevance in their life.  “When am I going to use this?” and the like, are questions we uncomfortably endure during the teaching of algebra.  In Real Life, most situations can be done using the same sort of subtraction that identifies number families in primary without “let statements” or other algebraic strategies.  True, algebra does get amazingly complicated where proper procedure is necessary, but not in real life.  People can live their lives without algebra without disadvantage.  One reason why they never solidify their understanding or that skills are allowed to degrade is there are so few practical applications.  This is part of a problem with our school curriculum.  Our system is a sort of pre-calculus model; we teach math focused on, and heading towards, calculus as a mathematical goal.  The problem with that is, beyond some engineers, very few up us will end up learning/needing/applying calculus in our lives.  It has been 21 years since I took calculus—I don’t remember how to do it, but I have never had an opportunity where I needed it; I have not suffered for want of calculus.  Calculus may be a stunning example of human brilliance; it may be invaluable to engineers, but to the rest us, it is impractical and unnecessary.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Aristotle taught that education is both a good unto itself and what you can do with it.  Esoteric knowledge is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it might be as it has a serious negative consequence.  The math we need in life; the math we need daily to understand or solve our current problems is the math our system least values even though it is most relevant.  The negative consequence is our studetns are short changed on relevant math when we, as a system, focus on pre-calculus.  We should be focusing on Data-management and probability as a system.  Understanding the importance of standard deviation would be so much more useful to people that calculating the area under a curve.

Many teachers and students think that these 2 units are easy and of little value; this is mainly the case because that’s how our curriculum teats them.  Each year they make their surveys and walk around the school collecting data (and interrupting classes) so they can graph their “authentic experience” in whatever graphing style they are learning.  In probability, students spin spinners, roll dice, and pull marbles from imaginary bags—boring and pointless.  As a result, Psychology students struggle unprepared through their Stats course in first year university; teachers nod dutifully when Sir Ken Robinson tells them a test resulted in 98% of kindergarteners scoring at genius level, we fill in our school plans for continuous improvement without discussing significant difference, mean or standard deviation; we don’t understand in what ways the ambiguities of “average” and how it’s being used to mislead us; in short, we don’t know what we’re missing, ignoring and short changing our students on.  I was lucky; I met a teacher that loved both…he taught me!  I learned.

For data:

Hand out a diagnostic test and realize that by grade 7 and 8 everyone can make a bar graph—fix the odd problem with scale and move on!

Now you can:

1)      Present David McCandless on TED.com and the artistic/beauty of graphing.  Combine graphing to tell a different story…a picto-scatter graph, a three dimensional bar graph, a bar graph were the width of the bar displays other data, etc.

2)      Present Chris Jordan…graphically display something that so large we can’t deal with intellectually—only emotionally.

3)      Present Dan Ariely on TED.com and see the predictable mistakes we make with data everyday…advertisers know them…so should your kids

4)      Watch Hans Rosling tell a story with data in “the river of myth” or “200 countries over 200 years.” Turn your data into stories.

5)      Teach them graphic manipulation techniques.  It’s not wrong when a magazine or politician starts their graph at 50 rather than 0…its strategic–learn the strategies.  Stop telling them it’s wrong to not start at zero and start telling them when they might want to (remember, “there are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics”…teach them how they are being lied to)

6)      When should you use mean or mode or median….depends on the story you want to tell

7)      How to use biases to your advantage…advertisers and politicians don’t avoid them…neither should you

8)      Have them explain the math behind jokes (3 mathematicians go hunting; a duck flies by.  The applied mathematician takes a shot but misses—2 feet too high.  The Abstract mathematician takes a shot; he misses—2 feet too low.  The statistician starts jumping…”we got him! We got him!)

In probability:

Think it’s easy? Try this: if 72% of people prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, what is the probability of at least 8 out of a random 10 people survived prefer milk chocolate?  Probability is great, because, like data we’re not very good at it and it is often counter intuitive–we have lots to learn

1)      Look up “Linda bank teller” on Google and explore the conjunction fallacy with your students.  How many chose option 2…was it the standard 85% even though it’s wrong?

2)      Have fun even…look up Donald Duck and Flipism

3)      If 5 friends are drawing straws or picking numbers is it better to go first or last?  Prove it (it doesn’t matter—a beautiful little pattern emerges)!

4)      Have you explored the Monty Hall problem…I like it because so many mathematicians were wrong…Why?

5)      Penny’s game:  try it! Explain it!

6)      Try using black jack

7)      Explain the birthday problem—why in a room of 23 people is the chance of 2 sharing a birthday 50%

8)      Go to NLVM.com and find the coin flipper…talk about the law of large numbers–more chance of being close to the mean but less chance of being exactly the mean…cool!

9)      Probability has multiple modes to solve problems which create multiple points of entry for different learning styles.  There’s diagrams like tree diagrams, some formulas and calculation techniques, tables and charts, and experimental.  What is the chance of getting a value of 7 rolling 3 dice is a great question because people will approach it differently

10)   Then, if you’re really adventurous, try Bayesian logic…if your doctor gives you 3 months to live why will you likely live much longer than that?

While we hardly use algebra, we are constantly running data management and probability software in our heads but it needs constant upgrades to remain useful as we grow into more complicated situations.  Algebra is great; it is one of my favourite units because I like the symmetry—it’s beautiful; however, I’m not fooling myself.  Algebra gets them ready for high school; data and probability get them ready for life.

1While I came about these conclusions on my own and in discussion with a colleague, we were both delighted to be vindicated by Arthur Benjamin: “Teach statistics before calculus!” on TED.com when we found it. Some of the phrasing in this post is inspired by his presentation.

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Ask questions in class that can be googled, without Google of course!

Often, again among educational circles on the internet, you hear the phrase / command to “stop asking questions whose answer can be found on Google.”  Firstly, I think implicit to that statement is a devaluing of factual knowledge that I have addressed https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/in-defense-of-facts/ where I argue that having factual knowledge is the basis of skills and is vastly different from having the ability to find factual knowledge, and in a corollary form https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/im-not-dead-i-think-ill-go-for-a-walk-said-the-expert/ ; however, a few things remain to be said:

I have often replied to individuals who advocate the above with: “can you give me an example?”  Mostly, the call is ignored but occasionally, an individual replies with a broad statement about asking students for opinions. To this, I’d respond 2 ways.  1) To have an opinion, you require facts; opinions are a response to a fact.  They need a base or are merely a pseudo-opinion that may mimic the syntax of an opinion, but are valueless.  Thus, you must at least start with facts (that can be googled) that are firmly understood in order to have an opinion.  2) Have you met the Internet?  One is tempted to say that the majority of statements on the internet are opinions or pseudo-opinions.  Why can’t a student copy / mimic an opinion as much as a factual statement?  I wait in earnest for someone to give me a question that can’t be googled but can be answered by my students.  The only think left is to create—are they advocating jumping to the top of the beloved Bloom’s Taxonomy each and every time with everybody?

Many skills are also an application of factual knowledge.  Are people suggesting we shouldn’t ask a student to demonstrate a serve in volleyball because we can look up how to do it on the internet?  Don’t paint a picture to demonstrate balance because you can just find one on the internet.  Don’t write a poem about beauty because Shakespeare’s been digitized. Don’t do any math question because you can find the answer on line.  Being critical or creative is an application of knowledge; many fine examples can be found on the internet, but surely there is value for students to do these independently.  Is it different with a content question in science? 

The organising of facts into a coherent answer is an application and a demonstration of mastery.  Like the above art examples, to have a student create an answer to a math or science question requires them to turn their understanding into the complex symbolic language of writing.  Even if it doesn’t involve opinion, it requires many skills, clarifies their thinking / understanding, and improves their understanding and memory for later application.

Implicit to the statement is also the assumption that it is better to seek information from the internet instead of class questions or discussions.  This is troubling for 2 reasons.  It is partial (at least) absurd, and it fails to appreciate the complexities of learning online.

It is partially absurd because it is such a generalization.  It has in its core, either the idea that information on the internet is always inherently better, or that learning this way is always inherently better.  Should students learn to speak from the internet?  Learn the letters and sounds?  Can they learn to turn the computer on from the internet-sure they can, but perhaps it would be less problematic to be told how to by a teacher, even if it can be googled.  I invite you to take a break now and go to Google.  Type in “how do i goo” and see the list of suggestions from instant search feature; don’t the suggestions hurt just a little?  There are many factual based content areas that are better learned from teachers or other interactions; how to share and why is sharing important are easily googled, but not easily learned from this exposure.

Many contents on the internet are hard for students to decode without context from the teacher first. “Is radiation good for you?” is a good question to ask and to discuss in class because a search on the internet will likely reveal to the student that indeed radiation is good for you (try it and pretend you don’t already know).  “Is global warming real?” is another great question to ask in class even though the answer can be googled.  This is because a student without factual knowledge beforehand will almost certainly come to the conclusion that it is fake (try it!).  “Evolution?”-try it! “Which religion is the best?” – try it!  Critical thinking without prior knowledge relies heavily on internal inconsistencies as you cannot spot the omissions without prior knowledge—that’s what makes the internet a dangerous place.

What’s wrong asking questions that can be googled?  To retell and repeat doesn’t just demonstrate understanding, it improves it.

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The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.

Often, in educational circles, I hear the statement/complain that schools and classrooms look the same as they did a 100 years ago with the implication that this is harmful to student learning.  I feel this is a ridiculous statement; it is either untrue or at best, irrelevant.

I think the first way to respond can be found in this article: Dear Hollywood: “School Doesn’t Look Like This”

http://plpnetwork.com/2012/06/15/dear-hollywood-school-doesnt-look-like-this/  In this article, some of the differences between today’s classrooms and those of the past are presented.  Focusing on, teaching style, digital tech integration, desk or table arrangement, etc.  Of course this is not an exhaustive list, and anyone familiar with today’s classrooms should be able to expand it.  The troubling implication here is that so many in the education field don’t.  There are so many other differences in content and pedagogy to point out.  I once got a tweet from a digital art teacher who wondered if we were teaching the same as in the past; this from a digital art instructor!  He later revealed he was refering to the fact that we still teach them in batches based on age.  I have addressed that here: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/organizing-schools-by-ability-instead-of-age-is-harmful-to-children/   Even if you don’t agree with me, we can’t perseverate on this one similarity…it doesn’t alone justify the hyperbolic claim of “sameness.”  Some similarities or consistencies will always be there (eg. schools will be to educate people).

Is your classroom just the walls and desks?  Surely you don’t teach the same as 100 years ago?  How many of us are teaching Latin or Classic civilizations (well grade 5’s are)?  Are your students in single rows?  Are you in a one room school house?  In Ontario, at least, aren’t you using a curriculum radically different from the one used in the 1990’s (which was of course different from the one used 100 years ago)?

In our board, we go to the Heritage School House or Pioneer Village to experience the differences and to learn about how different schooling was 100 years ago.  Sure I recognise the building, sure I recognise the front desk as the teacher’s…but there’s a world of difference between same and similar.  Writing the word “once” is a similar act to writing a novel that starts with “Once upon a time…”   I also recognise cars, houses, churches (even of different traditions and even 1000 of years old), boats, and all manner of other things.  Being recognizable is part of it’s essence or even Platonic quality; chair appearance hasn’t changed to the point that its unrecognizable, but the tech to build one and the ergonomics have certainly improved.  Do we need a new chair design to the point where it isn’t recognisable to prove to overly concrete and limited thinkers that it has changed?  How about schools, just because they don’t look like an airport or submarine doesn’t mean they are the same as 100 years ago.

Being old is not the same as being obsolete or irrelevant.  Anyone over 20 should intuitively agree.  Would the people who suggest that schools are obsolete because of consistent design be willing to make a similar aguement with religious people.  Would they be willing to say, “Your moral code is from the Bronze Age; you need to replace it!” to Christians and Jews.  Should old people be considered obsolete as well?

My students can instantly recognise hotels, planes, cars, hospitals and banks no matter how old they are.  Lots of things look the same but still work differently.  Schools continuously change…often teachers grumble about that.  We have a board plan for continuous improvement (change), and a school plan for continuous improvement (change)…never mind the dozens of changes implemented by Ministry and Board employees each year.  Never mind the changes that I implement each year.  You can go to school online now—can you travel online or go to a hospital online?

To reiterate: old does not mean obsolete.  That is an epistemology that has developed over the last generation or so in the Western World.  It is created largely by the market place; a market place of innovation sure, but also one of planned obsolescence, disposal-ability, and replace-ability.  A market place that sold new things by creating false needs, or by creating the desire for newer products as a value.  We used to repair now we replace and recycle.  We used to value tradition over transience.  Sometimes, things/ideas/building have staying power because they elegantly solve a problem, or because they so successfully create positive utility.

The better something is designed, the longer it lasts.  Perhaps the persistence of the classroom model should be celebrated!  It has lasted a very long time; where’s the evidence that your innovative model (or vague concept) will be better?  Where’s the staying power of your innovation?  Have you analyzed the unforeseen consequences?  Do you have enough evidence to argue it is better and therefore classrooms need to change even more than they already do?

The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.

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21st Century Learning? Get over it! It’s Already 2012!

@Stephen_Hurley proposed that the writers at VoicEd.ca write exploring 21st century learning and its meaning.  Here are some of my initial thoughts.  They’re a bit jumbled.  Feel free to deconstruct or ask for clarification:

I think the idea/term, 21st century learning is a fairly empty catch phrase used to sell a variety of programs or to rally for change in the education system.  People may do this with the best intentions, and may affect positive change; others might not be so pure.  To do this, they temporarily define the term and apply it to their ideas/programs.  They are free to do this, because the term/concept is an empty shell, free to be inhabited; it is a cart waiting for a horse and a bandwagon waiting for us to jump on, it seems to be an attempt to throw the baby out with the bath water…

I have been perplexed that the phrase is as persistent and wide spread as it seems to be.  Perhaps it is because the idea is free to be adapted, but I have been surprised that a group of educators, focused on innovation and reform as a positive utility, would adopt a single concept so completely and project its reign for a 100 years…what will we have in 2099, 21st century learning as we have it now?

It’s possible that there is something unique in our technological landscape and this pedagogy, but I’m less sure of this then most.  Perhaps “more is different” as Clay Shirky suggests, but perhaps it’s not.  When members of the Oldowan Culture were breaking rocks into tools 2.6 million years ago, they sat in groups.  They helped each other, they collaborated and improved, they gave feedback and shared, they did everything we are asking of our students in their learning and are calling new and innovative under 21st century learning.  Class discussions are asymmetrical, like conversations on SM, and require the same social skills.  When a student is sneaking a peek at answers in their desk and making sure the teacher isn’t going to catch them, they are multitasking.  Is there any skill required in 21st century learning, besides button pushing, that hasn’t existed, as a skill, in the last 5 centuries?

I am further perplexed by our current push to leave the past behind us and innovate.  The present was built on the skills of the past.  We inhabit a world of social media and communication revolution that was constructed from the education system we are so quickly trying to abandon.  I was a product of that learning environment, as were most of us here, yet here we are adapting, using, creating and all without the benefits of a school system designed to include 21st century learning skills – one wonders how we do it?  If people need radically different education to navigate this world, then surely we can’t hope to do so.  Further, with our rapidly changing media landscape, why do the skills 21st “centuriests” are now focused on, have a better chance to prepare students for that unknown future?  Won’t they be outdated as students mature?  It reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s line “if it works, it’s obsolete.”

Valuing innovation and innovators is a cultural choice and not a universal truth.  Some prefer stability, familiarity, tradition, etc.  Can we in multi-cultural Canadaretool our education system with this cultural tenant so entrenched in the idea of 21st century learning?  Each change in the process seems to create new problems as it solves old ones; it seems to be a zero sum gain/game.  Is each innovation in pedagogy an improvement or just a change?

Instead of focusing our discussion about 21 century learning, it seems to me that we should be focusing on effective learning and teaching.  There are fun, engaging, activities to be created and done with the tools we now have available, but 21st learning seems merely to be “an improved means to an unimproved end.”  The goals for our teaching and student learning, the skills we wish to engender, are the same skills that led to success in the past.  Let’s not focus on the century, that seems like focusing on the technology at the expense of focusing on the learning.  Let’s stop talking about learning in the 21st century and just talk about the skills students need in order to be successful and the many approaches, even traditional approaches, to engender them.  Let’s drop dropping catch phrases to blur our conversations and drop making false dichotomies between the past and the present…

 

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technology can no longer be ignored; sharpen your pencil!

There’s a lot of talk out there on the Twitterverse, and other digital places, to the effect that teachers have to use technology.  This statement is either painfully obvious or a complete hyperbole.  If the term “technology” is being used appropriately, then the  statement is painfully obvious; chairs, lighting, the alphabet, clothes, and deodorant at all technologies that a teacher really needs to use in the course of a school day.

I think, however, people are generally referring to digital technology and some web 2.0 / SM tools. This of course is a complete hyperbole.  This position is supported by such   statements as: teachers can no longer afford to ignore tech (sic); or it’s insane to 
ignore tech (sic); or teacher’s who are uncomfortable with tech (sic) are doing such a disservice to their students that they should retire or be forced out of the profession (this one’s paraphrased).  These statements are fairly common on such micro-blogging sites like Twitter. To these statements and others like them, I’d like to say in very general terms, “calm down, relax, and be reasonable.”

Calm down: I really like digital technology and SM but it’s still not everyone’s focus.  20% of Canadians don’t even have internet connection, Twitter is used by just 3% of the world’s population and a mere 50,000 individuals account for 50 % of the traffic (that’s ¼ of 1 percent of Twitter users).  How many of your personal followers are no longer active?  How many Twitter users have rejected Twitter?  It’s great, but digital technology is still a minority experience.  Let’s not invalidate so many people’s lives by pretending we have all marched to an omega point of technology and social experience.

Relax: it still remains to be seen if this is a digital revolution we are experiencing.  We might be in a revolution, but we might not. If most if your public discourse is in digital mediums it is hard to maintain perspective.  Will it be adopted by the majority? Right now, voices ringing with the need for digital technology are still a minority; is 
this a  revolution or is it the Bay of Pigs.  How big is this movement? Is it growing faster then the resistance to it?  Is it unreasonable to suggest even the possibility that society might actually reject SM? No one thought that Rome would fall either.  It remains to be 
seen whether SM will be evaluated as a liberator or conqueror.  At what point will digital tech fall; when will the next revolution start and what will replace the current technological environment?

Be reasonable: there is plenty of good, useful, necessary learning to do outside of SM.  We used to suggest that there was room for diverse techniques – in teaching and learning.  Some educators might actually choose to reject SM for valid reasons; is there no room for professional judgement here?

There is lots of great stuff you can do with digital technology in the classroom; however, you need to stop justifying yourself at the expense of others.  Your hyperbole doesn’t help
your position.  Whenever one side doesn’t allow for legitimate opposition to even exist there is a problem.

I use digital technologies in my class quite extensively, though not as extensively as some.  I think that teachers should explore the possibilities and decide how best to use them (even if that is be not using them).  I don’t care what people’s decisions are – use it or don’t, its up to you, after you have informed yourself.  I don’t want to ne at a point where we tell each other what must be done; how to do it; and pretend there is no other way to be a good teacher.

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Learning to use social media shouldn’t be like learning to ride a bicycle, it should be like learning to drive a car.

 

 Learning to use social media shouldn’t be like learning to ride a bicycle, it should be like learning to drive a car.

Generally, children start to be taught to ride a bike when they are physically able to learn. We start by doing. We don’t worry too much about them going too fast or too far as they are still young and are watched by their parents. They are also small so going too fast is rarely a concern. We don’t worry too much about the rules of the road; those come later. The rules aren’t that important to their learning process because they are, again, not going far, not fast, there’s always a parent around. Often, the rules of the road are immaterial as they are learning on paths, parks or parking lots. Eventually, we teach them all that as they begin to go farther away from a parents gaze. Eventually, we fill them in about the dangers and the we warn them about the rules. Maybe we wait so we don’t dampen their enthusiasm; maybe we don’t want to worry them. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, they have plenty of time to learn the rules as they go. There is little danger in learning to ride a bike this way.

Learning to drive a car is a radically different process. First, we wait until we think they are old enough to handle the responsibility safely. Teens are physically able to drive a car long before we begin to teach them; obviously, we feel the dangers / responsibilities are a more important criteria then mere physical strength. When they are finally viewed as old enough, we still delay their participation in social driving.

First, we teach them the theory. Either by studying a book and taking a test, or by taking classes, or most often by doing both, we are finally ready to take them on guided lessons about driving. Then, at least in Ontario, they go through a 2 year probation period before we give them full access. As a society we take learning to drive very seriously. We are proactive in mitigating the risk. We have professionals who are aware of the dangers, not just the advantages of driving, teach them to be safe. No instructor says, “wow, look what a car can do – explore! Test the limits!”

Even though they grew up in a culture where cars are the norm, even though they are natives in a driving culture and can’t imagine a world without it, we take the time to make sure that they are ready before we let them drive on their own.

I think we should be as responsible and serious about teaching them to use social media; I think pretending its like a bike is irresponsible and harmful.

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Should Kindergarteners be using Twitter?

 Last week I offended someone. For those of you who know me, that might not come as a shock, but I’d like you to bare with me. I was reading an article about Twitter in a kindergarten classroom. I re-tweeted it and called it reckless.

@ginrob_pt P. Tucker

Rather read about their understanding of SM and privacy-reckless! MT @OISELibrary How a SK class uses Twitter to learn http://bit.ly/qttEum

@happycampergirl was good enough to engage me about it on twitter, and I am hoping she will respond to this post. Since my initial re-tweet, I’ve learned more about her and what she is doing. Not that she needs my approval, but I think she’s doing a good job. She seems to have the current privacy of her students well in hand, and she is using twitter to do really interesting stuff. She has found a way to use it for a very engaging, authentic, ongoing, literacy, learning activity. If you disagree with my objections below, you should check out her blog about it @ http://ow.ly/6xJ7f . If you disagree with my points, you could hardly find a better use for Twitter with kindergarten students; however, if I were a parent of one of those children, I would not have signed the parental consent form; I would not allow my child to participate. By the end of the post, one of 3 things will be apparent: 1) I was reckless to call her reckless; 2) she was somewhat reckless in using twitter; or 3) we both were reckless.

Objection 1: The invisible curriculum.

By using Twitter in the manner described in her blog, this teacher is violating the terms of use set out by Twitter. This, and behaviour like this, has the unfortunate effect of teaching students 2 lessons that we should wish to avoid. First, one is teaching their students that they don’t have to behave ethically by modeling this behaviour. The “terms of use” are an explicit social contract. Twitter is a free service but it is not freely offered. The conditions for use must be followed; Twitter is someone’s intellectual property. You have no right to it unless you follow their conditions. If one wishes them to be different, petition the company or attempt to get an injunction…in either case, in order to fulfill the requirements for ethical behaviour as set out by social contract theory and by our courts, we must abide by their conditions in the meanwhile. Second, students are learning to ignore the “terms of use.” By passing them off as unimportant you are helping to foster a climate where people ignore the fine print. I don’t think this is a safe mentality, nor is it one that will guard their privacy or utility in years to come. If you aren’t worried about you students learning these lessons because they are too young to grasp the concepts; well, I might agre.  This, however, brings me to my second objection (later): if students are too young to grasp the complexities of the digital environment, perhaps they are too young to be using it.

It is startling that people in education want to extend the reach of a company in the market place, even to places it doesn’t dare go on its own. Twitter has rejected young children as a market to deliver to its advertisers; why are teachers trying to do it for them? Has twitter seen a danger we haven’t? Have we even asked?

Objection 2: Do they understand it?

The digital media environment is complex and difficult to understand. It is frustrating, but without a deep understanding, my warnings fail to alarm people; I find those who understand media better are more receptive to my arguments for caution.  Twitter, for example is not a conversation; it is not the same as talking to someone.  Twitter is a publishing and broadcasting system; it is also a business with a complex business strategy.  How can one properly prepare kids to use media, if s/he doesn’t understand media theory?  My objection is: teachers might not know the dangers that are out there (and there are out there); therefore, it is dangerous for them to lead their kids into SM.

I use twitter for limited purposes with my intermediate gifted students in late January or February, depending on when they are ready – when they know enough. I think kindergarten is necessarily too young. 10 % of them still cry on Monday mornings; some believe in Santa Clause (even that Virginia kid); that a bunny hides chocolate eggs for them to find because the world is a wondrous place; at least half of them don’t understand the difference between commercials and TV shows; they certainly don’t understand the techniques or reasons for them. Sadly, I think most teachers don’t understand the digital environment either.

One can’t just read “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky or watch him on Ted.com, though those are a start. He and other technophiles are great and inspiring but not necessarily critical or cautionary. Teachers have to read things like: “Understanding Media,” by Marshal McLuhan; “Amusing ourselves to death,” or “informing Ourselves to Death.” by Neil Postman. Teachers have to analyze media like Twitter using something like this: http://bit.ly/eedUBq . Do you think it is a conversation they are having? Then you haven’t read http://bit.ly/jnbeUU by Danah Boyd, or http://bit.ly/pmqlSh by Alexis Madrigal.  Teachers even need to figured where their students or even themselves reside in Twitter’s business model?

If you do understand all this, do your students? teachers might be able to keep them safe in their class, but by normalizing twitter at such an early age, students/children will not approach it critically the next time. They won’t give it the respect/caution in needs. (“ahhh, no big deal, we used it in kindergarten; I know all about it)…will they use it next year or in two years by themselves? Do their parents now think it is harmless because it was introduced in school?

What’s the rush? There must be other less abstract ways to get your students to relate and talk to others. What advantages does the digital environment offer to kindergarten students that cannot be replicated by other means? What great advantage outweighs the negatives? Eventual participation is not an argument for early exposure. Students will do all manner of things when they grow up: drive, drink, enter committed sexual relationships….is early expose necessary? I think that they are too young.

Yes, @happycampergirl and others are doing great things with Twitter…but there are other great things they could do (I have no doubt). Things that are age appropriate that their students will better understand. Use media that is more immediate, mundane and less abstract. Have them talk and read to each other or the class down the hall. Why, in our multicultural schools, do we have to abstract an opinion from across the world? They are right across the hall. Make a chat room by arranging your desks in a circle. Get them to know each other and share their diverse opinions.

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