Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twitter - Facebook - Social Media

Using Twitter , Facebook, personal learning networks and time suck. An interesting tweet from @tryed. @glassbeed Interesting. Older students are dropping Facebook for Twitter In response I think to this retweet from @glassbeed RT @biggmaxx OK, this one's great...from one of my students today in class...."Twitter is Facebook for old people" When I was in college, the first time, we young students generally respected the older students. As a rule the older students worked harder and got better grades than most of us younger guys. We knew there was some sort of wisdom gained with age we just couldn't seem to use it. I mean doing homework, reviewing or even rewriting notes, going to sleep at reasonable hours, preparing for the day; we knew these sorts of things would improve our grades, but we just couldn't seem to do them. Here's my view of Twitter and Facebook. After reading I hope you will understand why it is not a wonder to me that older students would choose Twitter over Facebook, at least in general? Facebook is great for connecting to old friends and family.
  • The friend search allowing you to focus a search by school and city promotes this. The friend suggestion tool that basically suggests your friends friends also promotes a current or former group of friends.
  • With a profile that includes options like relationship status and political views points content towards daily life and opinions.
  • The ability to embed pictures and video into the wall stream and allow friends to make comments that all can see again tends to daily social life. Most of our pictures are family and friends.
  • Almost all your friends on Facebook actually have some social connection to you.
  • The various polls, quizzes, and games are a huge time suck, but generally addicting.
It seems obvious to me that Facebook is more geared towards the social aspect of collaboration. Twitter on the other hand is great for connecting to professionals.
  • Your Twitter homepage is very basic minimalist design with an emphasis on what you have tweeted lately.
  • Your group of friends is right there as one big group. Easy for everyone to not only see but follow as well.
  • Twitter allows people to create their own API client emphasizing what they want. This allows users to choose what they want Twitter to look like. I like Tweetdeck because I can separate the people I follow into groups.
  • Twitter allows one basic picture of you, words and links.
  • The limit of 140 characters is both restrictive and requires creativity.
Twitter it seems to me is strongly focused on what you have to say. How is this really different?
  • On Facebook my friends are people who care about my daily life - they want to see pictures of my kids, they care about my job search, they want to know about the weather in my part of town.
  • On Twitter my friends are people I don't know, but we have a common interest. In my case mostly education, but also some social media marketing mixed in.
  • On Facebook I check in once a day or so and see what my friends are up too. Friends whom I don't call often enough.
  • On Twitter I leave it running in a side monitor and follow discussions in real time over a period of time.
  • On Facebook, for me, a lot of the conversation is what is happening or some silly quiz.
  • On Twitter , for me, most of the conversation is interesting facts or links to interesting articles, with the occasional tweetscussion thrown in.
    • discussions don't work very well on Twitter , but if they are good I have seen a few move to a elluminate or similar forum.
  • Facebook for me is about keeping in touch or promoting a cause.
  • Twitter is about learning and developing professionally.
  • Facebook is a group of friends - Twitter is a PLN or personal learning network.
Can Facebook and Twitter be used for the same thing?
  • Yes, Facebook can and should be used by someone looking to promote a professional service or business.
  • Facebook groups can and do create strong professional relationships.
  • Creating a group to promote your business and the visual aids allowed by Facebook can work very well to introduce and keep enthusiasm for your business.
  • Yes, Twitter can be used to keep in touch with friends. I've actually seen a lot of pictures of kids and what not. I think it adds a nice human touch to professional relationships.
I just think Twitter works better for building a PLN while Facebook is better at keeping in touch with people.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Toys, The Building Blocks of Learning

I was cleaning my oldest boy's room the other day. My wife saw me heading to the garbage can with a bag of broken toys. She wanted me to keep all of his toys because he will literally play with anything. 

While it is true that I will often find him playing with broken toys, that doesn't mean we have to keep every broken toy in the bin because he will play with it if he ever gets to the bottom of the toy box again. 

It did get me thinking though. Here's my theory on toys, gleaned from reading pop psychology articles over email.

  • Plain boring toys, blocks, Legos etc, increase imagination because the child must build something with the toy, use the toy as a symbol or what ever that requires a bit of imagination.

  • Trademarked toys, Lightning McQueen, or basically any Disney product, reinforce the story and hopefully the message it told. It builds some imaginative play but mostly helps retelling of stories and reinforcement of ideas.

  • Video games and TV are mostly passive watching, though often more recent kids shows do what they can to get kids involved in the show. Great for memorization and regurgitation of facts.

Broken toys will generally fit into the plain boring toy group.

All three groups are important to have. Imagination is first because I want my children to be able to think outside the box. Trademarked toys are second because a good lesson on morals, character, or life in general is a good thing to learn. Video games are last because even when kids do get involved they are simply providing the action or response wanted, not really thinking for themselves.

It is important to note that all three groups are included. All three groups are necessary. Take the simple example of the multiplication table.

I used to teach 4th grade. Curriculum wise my students should have learned the times table, but not all of them did. Now I could have retaught my students the basics of multiplication and expected them to figure out simple multiplication facts every time they didn't know one, but I didn't. I usually reviewed the concept, but then I had every student tape the times tables onto the top of their desk.

I know every student understood the basic idea of multiplication I didn't want the fact that they didn't have the entire one digit multiplication table memorized to interfere with their ability to learn two by two or two by three digit multiplication.

There are certain things we know and use everyday simply because we have been using them for so long and so often we memorize them. In most instances the why or how is not important. In life and education I see those low level facts as the building blocks for the other two sets of toys.


Monday, April 13, 2009

The End of Newspapers

So here I am reading this Clay Shirky post, Retrieved April 13, 2009, and thinking what would happen if newspapers did die out in our country. I don't have an answer that will save the newspaper industry, sorry guys. The fact is "Five years ago, the market value of the publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies was $80 billion. Today it is $5B." or at least that is what I heard on on Twitter from @gcolony).

It would seem that the newspaper industry as we know it is dying and we really can't save it. On the other hand journalism isn't dead and it isn't dying. As I see it journalism is actually getting stronger, but we readers MUST be get stronger as well.

Over the past decade of so my news source has changed from getting most of my news from the big 3, (Newspaper, TV, and radio) to most of my news from the Internet. Though I still get a lot of my information from major news sites. I tend to follow up with in-depth reporting from non-traditional news sources.

The difficulty with this model of consumption, I don't care how they pay for it I just want my news, is that almost everything I read ends up having some sort of slant. Sometimes it is easy to see the slant, al a Fox News or MSNBC, but sometimes it isn't. It would seem that one way to keep revenue flowing is to consistently take one side of an issue.

The obvious problem of course becomes how do we get unbiased news. The obvious answer then becomes critical reading. Evidently we don't have enough critical readers though because it seems more and more people are willing to flock to the same biased information sites and talk to like minded folk while denigrating those who think differently. The echo chamber as they call it.

This is my voice that hopefully rises above the echo chamber that is the education world and falls on the ears of real world parents. The most important skill our children need to learn today is critical thinking.

Yes, I know reading, writing, arithmetic is also important. Those are basic skills and they need to be the foundation but as children grow they also need to be able to evaluate if what they are reading, writing, or figuring is of quality.

We can start today as teacher or parent instructing our young readers how to look for sources. We can start today learning how to make quality citations,
Retrieved April 13, 2009. We can start by insisting that every piece of news we read or watch have quality transparent unbiased sources, and if biases sources are used then they are countered with biased sources from different view points so the reader can make their own judgment.

We can start by labeling posts like this opinion and requiring news posts to have sources. I can even see the day that news articles might have the sources posted first so we can decided to read a news story based on the quality of the research put into developing the story. OF course that is the future. Today we critical readers have to constantly be on guard and remember to step out of the echo chamber once in a while.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Gifted and Talented Education

This is a long response to a comment on a LinkedIn article. Basically the parent wants to know why her middle school doesn't have quality Science support for gifted children. 

In general the model for elementary schools in the U.S. is one teacher per grade teaching all subjects. This is the way one-room school houses worked, this is the way we still do it. That isn't to say it isn't the best way of doing things. In middle school the model moves from one teacher per class towards one teacher per subject. Then in high school the model moves to several teachers per subject. That isn't to say this always happens, just in general. 

The biggest benefit of having one teacher (besides the lower cost of integrating several teachers into one) is the ease with which the teacher can integrate across subjects. The low level of mastery required for teaching the subjects at the elementary grade levels makes it possible to have just one teacher for all subjects. One problem I have found is because it is possible to graduate college by basically retaking a high school course in your worst subject some teachers really don't have the needed grasp of all subjects. 

In your elementary school they have obviously decided that gifted and talented (GT) students deserve their own teacher and thus put them all in one class. Another option would be to have GT resource teacher(s). Yet another option would be to pull students out in subjects in which they are GT. Still another option would be to use differentiated instruction.

Most educators today would take the position that differentiated instruction should always be a part of the classroom. GT resource teachers can and should help teachers write these differentiated lesson plans with the GT students in mind. GT resource teachers can also pull students out or work in-class with GT students to allow them to delve deeper into the curriculum without disrupting the rest of the class. 

As we move to middle schools the general model in this country is to move from one teacher per grade level to one teacher per subject. Some schools will ease the transition by having one teacher teach two or more subjects in sixth grade. This means an elementary school running a GT program, whether it be a GT class or resource teacher, generally had to hire one extra teacher, but in middle school the same district might have to hire 4 or more teachers. 

The question "I'd be interested in whether there is research on what middle school is suppose to be "for"?" is a great question. And while there may be research out there the truth is the purpose of middle school, like the larger question 'What is the purpose of education?', is different depending on the person asking the question. 

For some middle school is seen as the transition between elementary school and high school. For others it is a transition from being children to being young adults. 

While the overall question, "What is the purpose of school?" may have an impact on "What is the purpose of middle school?" the choice of principal and teachers will have a much greater impact. The voice, or lack thereof, of parents will also have a large influence. Your school has obviously put the importance of middle school on creating a strong social foundation that will make education in high school easier and much more effective. (This may not be everyone choice, but it is still valid.)

One of the cons of the separate GT class in elementary school is the very act of separation. Our children are influenced greatly by their peers in the six years of middle and high school. Or more correctly we as parents have less influence on our children's choices. If they continue to be separated it is very likely they will be ostracized from most of their age based peers. 

In your specific school it would seem from your description that the administration recognizes this and have changed the GT program from a separate classroom into resource teachers. They just don't have anyone for Science. I would assume that, even though they won't admit it, the problem is likely money. As you said the district is underfunded. 

The addition of another teacher means, the cost of the teachers salary, the room to teach in, and in the case of Science specialized materials and possibly a specialized room. 

What can you do? Obviously you have started by getting your child involved with Lego© robotics and Science Olympiad. You can go further by going to board meetings and making noise about the lack of Science support in middle school. While you are at the board meeting you can suggest: Opening virtual classrooms, allowing your school to have advanced Science without the full cost of a new teacher and classroom. You can ask for after school clubs and activities. You can ask for a partnership with a local college or university. You can ask for a partnership with a local environmental group studying earth science. Let your imagination be your guide, but always go to a school board meeting with suggestions, then follow up month after month until something happens. 

In high school education is very different from elementary school. Some of that has to do with the history of education in our country and some has to do with the content that has to be taught. One thing is for sure if we asked one person to be expert enough in all subjects to be able to teach them at the high school level we would never have enough teachers. 

While high school education doesn't need the integration of subject matter, it is important to keep in mind how all subjects (art and music included) can and are integrated in the real world. 

GT programs in high school become almost exclusively advanced classes. This changes the focus from the student and his or her learning to the subject and what can be taught. It also changes the focus from placement by administration to choice by the student, though there are likely entrance requirements for most classes. 

School has gone from mandatory with few exceptions for home schooling to optional but most students still choosing school. Likewise, GT programs have transformed from most participants chosen by the school (Yes you can opt to create your own GT program at home or petition for your child to be accepted in the school sponsored program) to the student choosing to take advanced classes where they feel it is appropriate. (High school counselors now petition students to take advanced classes when they think it appropriate)