October 10, 2015

Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup

Dialogue Online provides the education headlines, links and web resources you should know.
Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup

* * * * *

Have any views on the news? Know of other interesting links, websites, resources or news for the education community? Post them below, or email us at editor@ourkids.net.


Is the ‘New’ Math Effective or Destructive?

The CBC just ran an article on the problems in our current math education system, which was terribly one-sided and an example of the worst kind of fear-mongering in journalism. They are quoting an article by Michael Zwaagstra, an “educational expert” writing on behalf of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Let’s examine the article written by Zwaagstra.

A solid understanding of mathematics, also known as numeracy, is an important component of a well-rounded education. The ability to perform basic mathematical computations is a requirement of many entry-level jobs. In addition, careers in fields such as engineering, medicine, finance and all of the sciences require a solid background in higher-level university mathematics, including calculus, statistics and linear algebra.

Kids learning math


The first thing to point out here is that the basic mathematical computations for entry level jobs are much different than the higher-level university level mathematics needed for engineering, medicine, finance and the sciences.

I have to agree with Zwaagstra that a solid understanding of mathematics is an important component of a well-rounded education. However, his assertion that mathematics equals numeracy is definitely false, as I have had pointed out to me on a regular basis. Many mathematicians, engineers, doctors, economists, and scientists struggle with basic computational math, but are still fully capable of doing higher level mathematics. This has been true for a long time, far longer than the new math has been used in schools.

Because math is such an important skill, schools have an obligation to ensure that students learn key math concepts. Unfortunately, schools are largely failing in this regard. First-year post-secondary students are increasingly unprepared for university-level mathematics, and this has led to a proliferation of remedial math courses at universities across Canada. Many parents choose to enrol their children in special tutoring sessions with organizations such as Kumon and the Sylvan Learning Centre to fill in the gaps left by the public school system. Unfortunately, many cannot afford extra tutoring, and this creates a two-tiered system that unfairly penalizes children whose parents cannot pay for extra math lessons.

Now Zwaagstra points out that remedial math courses are on the rise in universities, but he doesn’t mention a couple of key facts. First, under the old system of mathematics instruction, around 50 per cent of students failed first-year math courses, which were often included in programs as a tool with which to weed people out of university. Could it be that this issue has always been around, and universities are simply now doing something about the problem? What about the increase in students seeking a university education? Could these two issues be connected? Zwaagstra has assumed a correlation between the number of remedial math courses, and the effectiveness of K-12 math education, without actually finding research that supports his conclusion.

It is also important to point out that the “new” math education techniques are themselves not very old, and are not used by all teachers equally. The most recent iteration of the elementary school math curriculum in British Columbia is only four years old, and the secondary school curriculum is only five years old, neither of which is a long enough period of time to make the kind of determinations of effectiveness that Zwaagstra is making.

Further, he talks about parents enrolling their kids in after-school tutoring programs without discussing the reasons why parents are doing this. Are parents increasingly enrolling their kids for extra tutoring because they are dissatisfied with their children’s current educational attainment? Or do they have other reasons for paying for these tutoring services? We don’t know, and Zwaagstra doesn’t provide us with any evidence for the reasons for parents to choose tutoring. He just cherry-picks this fact because it seems to support his argument.

Although there is solid evidence supporting the traditional approaches to teaching math that involve mastering standard algorithms, practising skills to mastery and introducing concepts in incremental steps, most provincial math curricula and textbooks employ a different approach. Constructivism, which encourages students to come up with their own understanding of the subject at hand, is the basis for this new approach to teaching math. As a result, there is very little direct instruction of important mathematics algorithms or rigorous practising and memorization of basic math facts.

Math Problems

The problems in our math education system are entirely due to the introduction of the new math curriculum, according to educator and author Michael Zwaagstra.

There is also solid evidence showing that the longer that people are out of school, the less likely they are to use the algorithms they use in school, but the more successful they are at solving mathematical problems they encounter, as Keith Devlin points out in his book, The Math Instinct. In other words, traditional school math seems to be a hindrance to people being able to actually solve real-world mathematical problems. It’s worth pointing out that Devlin’s research is reasonably old, and most of the participants in the research learned mathematics in the traditional method. Is it even worth pointing out that Zwaagstra doesn’t actually include any of his “solid evidence” in his paper, and the footnote here (see the original article) leads to a definition of the word algorithm?

Our students deserve better. Pupils who are not taught math properly are being unfairly denied the opportunity to enter careers in many desirable fields. The public school system has an obligation to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn the mathematics required for university-level mathematics courses.

It’s pretty important to note that when teachers are given proper training in effective pedagogy, their students’ understanding improves. To say that the problems in our math education system are entirely due to the introduction of the new math curriculum is pretty irresponsible, given that any number of other factors could be contributing to the problem. Further, many schools use the International Baccalaureate program, which itself relies on the “new math” with a focus on students understanding mathematics and being able to communicate their understanding. These students are highly sought after by universities. If the new math was so destructive, wouldn’t we see these students being turned away by universities?

Zwaagstra then goes on to bash the results of the PISA examinations, citing an article (claiming it is research) written that suggests that Finnish students are not as good at math as the PISA results would claim, and that by extension, neither are Canadian students.

There is a strong consensus [emphasis mine] among math professors that the math skills of these students are much weaker than they were two or three decades ago.

Zwaagstra links to two articles (neither of which is a research study) that state that some professors have found a drop in numeracy skills (again, these are associated with mathematical ability, but are not equivalent), and the other of which makes no mention of math skills at all. In this case, Zwaagstra is completely misrepresenting the articles themselves. He then points to two professors who have done research on the computational abilities of graduates and noticed a decline, but he does not clarify whether or not this is correlated with a decline in their ability to do
university-level mathematics.

Zwaagstra continues by bemoaning the lack of standards and emphasis on accurate calculations by the National Council of Mathematics Teachers (NCTM), and the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP). Clearly, the research these two organizations have done for decades is not sufficient for Zwaagstra.

However, there is a big difference between demonstrating a conceptual understanding of mathematics and actually being able to solve equations accurately and efficiently. Just as most people would be very uncomfortable giving a driver’s licence to someone who merely demonstrates a conceptual understanding of how to drive a car, we should be concerned about a math curriculum that fails to emphasize the importance of mastering basic math skills.

To extend Zwaagstra’s analogy, we should similarly be afraid of giving the keys to someone who has no real-world experience driving. If someone has spent all of their time in a flight simulator, but never actually driven a car, should they be allowed to do so? Does an emphasis on the mechanics of driving a car (or the mechanics of mathematics) turn someone into one who is capable of driving a car (or able to use mathematics)?

Zwaagstra’s solution to improving math education is to move “back to basics,” which is as unoriginal an idea as I’ve heard. It is arrogant of Zwaagstra to assume that this approach hasn’t been tried before. Perhaps he could instead address the issue of elementary school teachers often lacking support and training in how to teach math? Zwaagstra points out (correctly) that having mastered one computation, students are then better able to learn another computation, but this leaves students learning a series of computations, and not spending any time actually using them.

JUMP math is mentioned in Zwaagstra’s article as an antidote to the problem, but he doesn’t talk about the issue of the associated training, or the lack of diverse assessment used in the JUMP math system. I think that the training manuals that go along with the JUMP math curriculum, for example, actually address the misconceptions of the people teaching the math (mostly elementary school teachers) rather than itself being a significantly better system. As one educator has told me, JUMP math is pretty useless without the training materials for teachers.

Just as someone who does not practise the piano will never learn to play well, someone who does not practise basic math skills will never become fluent in math.

Similarly, someone who has not had time to play with a piano, to improvise, and to perform music for others will never develop an appreciation for the instrument. Zwaagstra is suggesting that we should discard the extra parts of math education, like problem solving, and focus on computations, which is the musical equivalent of only learning scales, and never getting to perform music.

No one would stand for that in music education, so why should we accept it in math education?

People should have the freedom to express an opinion on what they feel is a problem.  To do so otherwise is to be undemocratic. Opinions can draw attention to issues in our society that need to be addressed. However, such opinions should be clearly labelled as such, and not called studies. Peer reviewed research (which shows that the techniques advocated by the NCTM and WNCP are effective) carries with it a heavier weight of authority, and is a more reliable instrument with which to craft public policy. Instead of relying on uninformed opinions of people outside of the field of mathematics education to determine education policy, we should look at what the research says works for improving instruction. Our goal should be to replicate practices which work, and to extinguish practices which do not.

* * * * *

How can educators help students improve in math? How effective is the “new” math? Share your tips in the Comments section below.

Read Michael Zwaagstra’s response to David Wees’ critique of his report on math education.

The Evolving Role of Educators in the 21st-Century Classroom

Today’s students are more tech savvy than ever as they are immersed in the world of social media, “infotainment” and spectacle. As a result, many students feel they have to “power down” to succeed in a classroom environment that offers fewer options for learning than are available in the lives they live outside the classroom. In the information age, educators are faced with the pressure to stay current and come up with innovative ways to excite their students about learning. By integrating technology into the classroom, educators can make learning more engaging and present curriculum in a way that resembles the type of media that students are accustomed to consuming.

As an assistant professor of education at Brock University, I believe that relevant types of technology like 3LCD projectors can be integrated into the classroom experience to enhance learning outcomes. Incorporating technology in the classroom can be as simple as creating an agenda in PowerPoint, and showing or emailing it to the entire class. It makes the agenda a little more interactive, ensures every student is on the same page and also saves paper. Many students respond better when they are shown something visual, and they can actually see how it applies to what they’re learning in class. Whether it’s Skyping with others around the world or viewing a video on YouTube, the entire classroom gets to participate and see the practical component of what they’re learning.

Today’s students are leaders in the use of technology and as educators, we need to understand and adapt to their evolving learning styles. By using technology tools in lessons and projects that engage students, educators can increase classroom participation while students develop better critical-thinking and comprehension skills. I believe that projectors are a key component for 21st-century teachers – they help students retain information, cater to a variety of learning styles and create an authentic learning experience. In challenging economic conditions where schools face tight budgets, it is critical to allocate resources in ways that would make the greatest impact. Technology is the best investment for the future of our youths in a highly connected world.

* * * * *

How are you using technology to integrate it in class? Do you have advice on how students can balance and integrate technology in their studies? Share your tips, resources and views in the Comments section below.


Click here to read more articles on technology in the classroom and 21st-century learning.

Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup – Sept. 19-23, 2011

Dialogue Online provides the education headlines, links and web resources you should know.
Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup

* * * * *

Have any views on the news? Know of other interesting links, websites, resources or news for the education community? Post them below, or email us at editor@ourkids.net.

The Maria Montessori No One Knows: A Heartbreaking Betrayal (Part 1 of 2)

Dr. Maria Montessori is one of the most famous women in the world and yet a key part of her life is all but unknown. Dr. Robert Gardner, working with colleagues at Clanmore Montessori in Oakville, Ont., took a new look at a time in Maria Montessori’s life that is glossed over, even by her most noted biographers.  “Not to know this story is to have an incomplete understanding of one of history’s most remarkable women,” says Cathy Sustronk, one of the founders of Clanmore.

Maria Montessori

When Maria Montessori was 30 (in 1900) her father presented her with a book filled with 200 articles he had clipped from the national and international press, all of which wrote glowingly about his unusually talented daughter. She was known as the “beautiful scholar,” and in an age when women were blocked from most professions and careers she had – against all odds – become the first woman physician in Italy. She had been interviewed by Queen Victoria and had represented her country at major international conferences. She was elegant, poised and – perhaps – just a bit vain. She was at the height of her fame, and it seemed that she could achieve anything. At this heady moment she was appointed the co-director for a school in Rome. It was an unprecedented appointment for a woman in that very conservative time. Her partner was another young physician, Giuseppe Ferruccio Montesano. Italian sources suggest that he was not in robust good health, but he was elegantly handsome. He came from the south of Italy and in his family, while the sons all entered the professions, the daughters were consigned to “womanly tasks” such as lace-making and the study of music.

He and Montessori fell in love and she became pregnant. At that time, especially in Italy, to have a child out of wedlock would have been disastrous to anyone. Montessori was facing the ignominy of being a scarlet woman. Montesano’s mother, by all accounts a very severe dowager, refused to consider marriage. Montesano was desperate. Montessori, perhaps for the first time in a charmed life, was bewildered. Montesano had a solution. He would give the child his name, but the baby would have to be sent away to a wet nurse as soon as it was born.  There was, however, no possibility of marriage. His mother, a woman who traced her ancestry to the House of Aragon, the rulers of southern Italy, was adamant.

Montessori was devastated. Montesano, in trying to calm her, promised that he would never marry anyone else. She was the only one for him. Montessori made the same vow. In a sense, they would have a spiritual union which made the disastrous consequences of their affair less dismal.

A Crisis, Then Remarkable Recovery

A year later Montesano betrayed her and married another woman. Montessori was in complete crisis. She had sent her baby son away to live with strangers and she could not openly acknowledge the child’s relationship to her. In the next decade she would see the child occasionally, but she never indicated to the boy that she was his mother. She was a tortured soul.

In this moment of absolute defeat she did something remarkable. Instead of crumbling under the strain, she went into the seclusion of a convent to meditate. Before the crisis she was likely somewhat egotistical and her life had been filled with triumph after triumph. As a woman of her time, and as an Italian, she was – of course – a Roman Catholic. But her faith was the faith of a scientist and a scholar, skeptical and refined.Maria Montessori

Now this proud and brilliant woman was reduced to a state of desperation. However, during the days and weeks in seclusion something incredible happened. In fact, she underwent a complete psychological transformation and she emerged from this period of self-examination with a set of goals which seem unbelievable to the modern observer. She appeared determined to totally reinvent herself. She moved forward with a resolution that is at once baffling and inspiring.

Although she was the first female medical doctor in the history of Italy, she decided to leave the practice of medicine forever. Abruptly, and without explanation, she resigned her prestigious post as co-director of an institute for developmentally challenged children. Then she enrolled at the University of Rome to master totally new areas of study. She took courses in anthropology, educational philosophy, and experimental psychology.  At the same time, she made another momentous decision that changed the course of education and teaching forever. Up to this time she had been preoccupied with children who were in some ways in the language of the times, “feeble minded.” Now she decided to focus all of her energies on improving pedagogy for the normal child. With that decision, Dr. Maria Montessori proceeded to revolutionize our thoughts about infancy and the incredible capacities of children from the very moment of birth.

In a strange way, if there had been no Dr. Montesano there would have been no Maria Montessori.  He, inadvertently, became the catalyst for a monumental emotional crisis that led Montessori, just into her thirties, to challenge every misconception about the capacities and needs of the very young.

A Son’s Influence on the Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Dr. Montesano never recognized his child, Mario Montessori, as his own. Indeed, even Maria Montessori, on her many tours where Mario was her faithful interpreter, always introduced him as either her nephew or her adopted son. It was when she was close to death that she accepted him publicly and in her will she identified him as “Il figlio mio” – my son.

Montesano, though, was never more than a footnote to history while Maria Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize three times.  Among scores of honours, she was the recipient of the French Legion of Honour decoration, and she received honourary doctorates from some of the greatest universities in the world.

Mario Montessori

Mario Montessori co-founded the Association Montessori Internationale with his mother, Maria Montessori, in 1929.

It was a terrible crisis that forged her untiring will to help children everywhere to reach their true potential. Without that searing ordeal her name, like that of the man who betrayed her, may have been forgotten.

It might be thought that the crisis that shaped her thinking might somehow have diminished her. Even generous modern readers may wonder why she abandoned her child for almost 15 years. The fact is, this terrible tragedy steeled her to recreate herself and caused her to focus her incredible talents in an effort to somehow make amends for the tragic loss of her son’s presence during his formative years.

One day, when he was 15, the young Mario Montessori noticed an elegant woman watching him with great interest.  Something told him that this was his mother.  He approached her and they were reunited.  For the rest of his life, although he subsequently married, he was her constant companion and confidant.  They were inseparable and together they created an approach to education that exists to this day.

The remarkable ending to this story is that modern research continues to validate her findings. In a recent study by Dr. Angeline Lillard, titled The Science Behind the Genius, Dr. Lillard collects scores of modern research findings which support Dr. Montessori’s earliest views on educating the child. Increasingly Dr. Montessori’s observations are being employed in secondary schools with stunning results. In fact, her ideas could well be employed in the university system where students are often isolated in an arid world of abstract lectures.

Maria Montessori, in some academic settings, is ignored precisely because she had such a trenchant insight into the failings of so much of what we call education. More than half a century after her death her influence is still making itself felt, still creating a sense of discomfort amongst some professional educators, and still pointing towards a more humane form of transmitting information to young children and adolescents.

Read Part 2: Journey to India

Assistive Technology Conference 2011: Strategies for Success

Registration for the 2nd Annual Assistive Technology & Personal Skills Development Conference: Strategies for Success is open and accepting registration.


This years conference focuses on ‘Strategies for Success’. Strategies such as:


  • Using Assistive Technology to make the curriculum accessible thereby meeting expectation that are capable in guiding students and adults achieve in the classroom and beyond. e.g Study Skills
  • Supporting individuals in becoming Active Learners
  • How to develop Accessible Assistive Technology strategies for different styles of learning and cognitive processing
  • Success Stories of Transition from Childhood to Adulthood with ASD. How it is possible.
  • Aspergers and Assistive Technology… What Works.
  • Strategies for embracing the Mind, Body Connection. What we can do to open up our minds to work for enhancing Learning.
  • Hands-on Strategies for Turning on Your Whole Brain with Movement: Cognitively Fit, Cognitively Aware.
  • Smart Boards strategies for capturing the inner Brainpower of students and adults worldwide.
  • Rewire Their Brains to Achieve Academic and Social Success…


These topics opens the possibilities for how you as a Teacher, Educator, parent, student, Psychologist, Social Worker, Guidance Counsellor, Youth Worker and administrative can apply practical and technological strategies that could open the door for learners who require alternative strategies to gain personal and professional success.


Come and Experience the next step in Learning and Providing support for anyone that learns differently.


Hear Students and Adults speak on their experience of working with Assistive Technology to manipulate through the education and corporate environment.


Hear from people who have experience the success of providing information in alternative ways for success.


These successful strategies can support anyone who work with or have being diagnosed as learning differently. Learn more and register today to attend.

Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup – Sept. 12-16

Dialogue Online provides the education headlines, links and web resources you should know.
Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup

IT for Every Classroom: Examples of IT Projects

In IT for Every Classroom, a weekly column on Dialogue Online, Paul Keery shares his practical tech advice for non-IT teachers.

Photo from The York School

Last week, we considered the factors involved in deciding what type of IT project to incorporate into your curriculum.  This time around, let’s look at examples of projects that would be appropriate for students in junior, intermediate and senior grades.

I Remembrance Day Podcasts

Believe it or not, Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) is fast approaching. Schools have revived and restored Remembrance Day commemorations in the last decade to recognize Canadians’ service in conflicts around the world since the First World War. Students at all grades can create their own commemorative enhanced podcasts to recognize the contributions of family members (parents or grandparents) or of individual combatants.  These can be played at school assemblies or in class on Nov. 11.

Here is an example of a Remembrance Day Podcast Assignment:

Remembrance Day – WW1 Podcast Assignment

Working on your own, visit the Veterans Affairs Canada website at http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/remembers/sub.cfm?source=history/firstwar/vimy

and the Memory Project.

For the Memory Project link, select WWI under Conflict, and it will take you to a list of veterans who have provided memories of the war. Find at least one other resource online; there are several good ones.

Assignment: Imagine that you have survived the battle of Vimy Ridge, Canada’s defining battle of the First World War. Write a short, one-minute Podcast about your experiences in the battle:

  • in the trenches; what was life like every day as a soldier living in the trenches?
  • describe the actions of one of four Canadians decorated at Vimy Ridge: Provate William Milne, Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton, Captain Thain MacDowell, or Private John Pattison.

Your podcast will be an enhanced one; it must include photographs and images of the battle (actual images of the soldiers would be wonderful, but may be impossible to find) as well as appropriate sound effects and music.

Procedure: Submit your script for evaluation before you record your podcast.

Evaluation: The script will be worth 35 per cent of the mark; the completed podcast will be worth 65 per cent of the mark.

This assignment could easily be modified to include the Second World War, Korean War, Canadian Peacekeeping Missions from the 1950s through the 1990s, the Gulf War, and the Afghanistan conflict.

Students would be expected to write a proper script (as described in an earlier blog, Scriptwriting for Podcasts), and submit it as part of their completed assignment.

II Dramatic Radio Show

Students would be expected to write and record a radio play.

Assignment: Produce a Drama or Comedy Program.

Time: You have four classes to write and produce a five-minute drama or comedy program.  This can be done in groups of three.

Procedure You may use a script you write, a script of a student-written one-act play, or a script from an Old-Time Radio show. You must have actors, sounds and sound effects you record yourself. You must have music. Choose or write a drama that requires this amount of audio and complexity (not a one person introspective show). If what you choose lasts longer than five minutes, you must edit or clearly indicate that this is the first in a serial; you do not have to complete the entire script. Each student in the group must play a role in the play.

Submit your script before recording the play.

You will have four class periods to prepare the program; one of these will be used for editing your final show.

Recording will take place in the third class period. You may have to convert sound files to mp3s at home to be sure that you are ready to upload them in class.

The final edited version will be completed and due during the fourth class period.

Evaluation: The script will be worth 35 per cent of the mark; the completed Podcast will be worth 65 per cent of the mark.  Your feature will be presented in class.

This project would be suitable for language arts of English classes, as well as high school drama and media classes.

Good luck with your IT project!

Read previous IT for Every Classroom columns:

* * * * *

Do you have IT tips to share with other educators, or an academic question on integrating computer technology with curricula for Paul Keery? Tell us what you think at: editor@ourkids.net

Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup – Sept. 5-9, 2011

Dialogue Online provides the education headlines, links and web resources you should know.
Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup

* * * * *

Have any views on the news? Know of other interesting links, websites, resources or news for the education community? Post them below, or email us at editor@ourkids.net.

Back to School, Back to the Polls

The new school year will be an exciting time for Civics classes throughout Canada as provincial and territorial elections ramp up. Already, www.studentvote.ca is gathering and distributing materials to make this election one of the most memorable and active in the K-12 classrooms around the province. Last year, there was a municipal and federal election to keep Greenwood College School’s students reading, listening and advocating for their politics, and now this year’s classes will carry on that legacy of involvement and political action. (Click here for the article on their participation in the federal election.)

Back to School, Back to the Polls

Teachers and students can take advantage of a great learning opportunity during elections. CHRIS BOLIN/OUR KIDS MEDIA

At our school, students’ involvement in the election is an authentic and important way for them to learn about why getting active early in politics is so important. Moving the discussions away from the nitty-gritty of political procedure and precedents and into concrete connections to their own lives will help to raise politically active citizens. We plan on calling in to radio shows, writing letters to the editor, interviewing local candidates, and holding a mock election through Student Vote. In these ways, we will be getting students politically interested, active and engaged in the hopes that when the next election comes along, they will be an informed voter, and cast their ballot.

Jack Layton’s address to the youth of the country in his letter to Canadians spoke directly to the power and importance of political engagement in this demographic. Here is a link to Matt Galloway’s interview with me on Metro Morning discussing his letter.

Layton’s letter is being met with a myriad of resources for teachers:

  • www.elections.ca is the government of Canada’s website to explain and explore all about elections
  • www.apathyisboring.ca gives teachers lesson plans and hooks to get students asking questions about why politics is important to them
  • www.voicesofyouth.org is a place for students to read, explore and contribute to political discussions going on around the world about political issues
  • www.studentvote.ca is a vital resource for any teacher looking to hold an election in their class or school. What makes student vote unique is that they tally the votes from all schools involved and publish the data the day after the election. This shows the city, country, and now province where students, if they had the vote, would put their ballot.

As a politics and history teacher, I hope that teachers and students take advantage of this great learning experience, and get involved with the election. The issues are important, personal and directly impact the future of this province. Good luck!

* * * * *

Do you have other tips and resources for teachers to help students get engaged in politics? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

IT for Every Classroom: Selecting a Subject for an IT Project

In IT for Every Classroom, a weekly column on Dialogue Online, Paul Keery shares his practical tech advice for non-IT teachers.

Photo from The York School

Choosing a subject for an IT project can be challenging.  There are a number of important factors to consider when deciding where and how to add a podcast project to your curriculum.

What Topics Fit Into the Course?

Every course will present different opportunities for IT integration. English and Language Arts classes could easily do book reports or dramatizations of scenes from books or plays. History and Social Sciences classes would be able to do biographies of influential people or could examine controversial issues in those subjects. ESL and Second Language classes can use IT to practice speaking and pronunciation, or to do readings from second language books. Mathematics and Science classes could create reports on experiments or biographical reports about famous mathematicians or scientists.

However, be sure to choose a topic that reflects your students’ skills at using IT.  Early projects in which students are learning to use IT should be kept relatively simple.  Once they have become skilled users of particular hardware or software, their IT projects can become more complex.

What Resources Are Available for Students to Use?

The audio and video content of students’ projects will also be affected (perhaps limited) by the resources that are available for them to add to their IT project, be it a podcast or a video project.

[a] What audio files are available to be included in the project?  If your History students are assigned a podcast about a modern historical figure, do you want your students to include audio clips of the person speaking? If so, are these legally available?

[b] What still images and video files are available to be included in the project?  If your Science students are doing a project about human space flight, what images can they legally download? Are public domain videos available? If so, how long will it take to download them – and will students be able to download them at school?

Before creating a project, you must be sure that resources are readily available and can legally be used. See the blog post Recording the Autobiographical Podcast for a list of online sources that students can use to find such resources to use in their project.

What Can Students Reasonably Be Expected to Produce?

There is another possibility: Students can create audio and video files themselves.  This is entirely possible if students are filming their own classroom work. For example, if Science students are creating a video project analyzing a classroom experiment, they could certainly film their own experiment and include it in the project. Care will have to be taken when filming the experiment, but it is certainly feasible.

Similarly, Drama students could be assigned to create a video project analyzing their class play – if they are already doing a major play as part of the course and they have had to design and create costumes and sets. However, it may not be feasible to film a scene from a play as part of an English or Language Arts class: Where will the costumes and sets come from (especially if it is a Shakespeare play)?  You can either set the play in a modern setting, or decide to do a podcast instead.

The Final Choice

It may seem, after looking at all of these factors, that it’s almost impossible to design and implement an effective IT project, but it can be done.

Read previous IT for Every Classroom columns:

* * * * *

Do you have IT tips to share with other educators, or an academic question on integrating computer technology with curricula for Paul Keery? Tell us what you think at: editor@ourkids.net

Next week: Get great examples of projects.

Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup – Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2011

Dialogue Online provides the education headlines, links and web resources you should know.
Dialogue Online Weekly News Roundup

IT for Every Classroom: Creating an IT Project

In IT for Every Classroom, a weekly column on Dialogue Online, Paul Keery shares his practical tech advice for non-IT teachers.

Photo from The York School

When you’re starting out with IT, it’s hard to resist getting carried away with the wonder of it all. There are so many possibilities. Podcasts.  Enhanced visual podcasts. Movies. The trouble with getting caught up in the wonder of it all is that it is so easy to try to do too much in a first project or the only IT project for the school year (if you only have access to computers in an lab setting for a few weeks). Teachers want to get a bit of everything into the project. But trying to do too much will result in a lot of frustration for students and teachers as well as a poor learning experience. Think ahead and plan carefully must be your guide.

Project Ideas – When To Do IT?

IT is time intensive. IT projects will often take half as much time as you have scheduled, especially if you’re just getting into IT integration. If your students have access to computers on a regular basis, avoid busy times of the year when other events are going on and schedule your IT project at a time when your students can focus on their IT work. Make sure that there is time available if the project runs long.

However, if your access to a lab is pre-determined, you have no choice; you’ll have to make the best of it. Keep the project short and simple to ensure that the students will finish on time.

Project Ideas – How To Organize Them

IT projects can best be used as summative projects (though it is very possible to do formative evaluation while the project is going on). Students should learn basic knowledge about the topic of the IT project first.  Then use the IT project to have students do more research to add more specific knowledge about a particular area of the topic, as well as apply that knowledge to a problem related to the topic.

For example, suppose students are learning about the War of 1812 as part of the upcoming bicentennial celebrations. In class, start off with a basic introduction to the war: Who was fighting, the major battles, the role of native peoples in the war, how civilians were affected by the war, and the outcome (who won?).

After that is finished, students could be assigned more specific topics that would allow them to study an aspect of the War of 1812 in more detail: Why did the war start? Who were Isaac Brock, Laura Secord and Tecumseh, and what role did they play in the war? What happened at Queenston Heights (or any other battle)? What happened to York (now Toronto) during the war? Students could then analyze what happened and explain why it happened, or why an important person did or did not achieve their goals.

Students could easily create a one or two-minute podcast or enhanced podcast about one of these topics.  After the students present their podcasts to the class, all the students in the class could then be given a quiz about each podcast (or about all the podcasts).

Project Ideas – What To Do?

It’s best that the IT project should form all or almost all of the instruction for a unit of work, given the research, writing, recording and presentation time the students will need.  Try to choose a unit that lends itself to this approach.

In Language Arts and Social Studies, a project could be built around a novel, short story, or a significant historical or geographical event; see the previous section for an example of such a project. In Art or Music, students could create an enhanced podcast about an artist or musician, including a biography and analysis of examples of their work.  In Math and Science, students could create an enhanced podcast about a mathematician or scientist, including a biography and analysis of examples of their work; or they could examine and interpret a mathematical or scientific principle.

Once students have finished their work, make sure to keep copies of their projects to show their parents, or to show future classes how IT projects can be done – and how students are combining traditional and modern literacy skills.

Read previous IT for Every Classroom columns:

* * * * *

Do you have IT tips to share with other educators, or an academic question on integrating computer technology with curricula for Paul Keery? Tell us what you think at: editor@ourkids.net