Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are Students a Barrier or Catalyst to Technology-Integrated School Reform?

Two of my students presented an analysis of Dead Poets Society today in class. Although I have seen the movie several times, there is a point that is not frequently considered in reviews of such movies. Talk is often made about the role of the teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), and the constructivist, student-centered perspective that he used. His animation and energy for life and teaching are often emphasized. However, less talk is often centered around the role of the students in this classroom environment. Specifically, talk of their reluctance (at least initially) to conform to new, innovative, out-of-the-box teaching practices is not usually given as much attention or thought. Nevertheless, this perspective is one that many teachers today are facing as they are seeking to advocate the use of technology in their schools.

Students of all ages may see relevance for using technology in their everyday life. However, they may see less purpose for allowing such innovation to be used as a teaching tool. They look around the room and at each other, seeming to question the fact that technology could be used within the context of learning other relevant content.

Sure, there is the perception that all of our students are digital natives, living and breathing with technology. However, this is not always true. They, like many teachers, have to learn technological skills (e.g., Web 2.0 tools). Likewise, they want to see the purpose behind the technological use (i.e., technology integration).

Certainly, it is an interesting age in which we live. Many educators and citizens want to see positive school reforms implemented -- especially such reforms that embrace technology. However, the change is likely going to be a gradual process. eSchoolnews offers some survey results related the barriers of Web 2.0 is schools.

What do you think? Are students a barrier or a catalyst to technology integration in your school?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Should Schools be Open 12 Months a Year?

During a visit to a school in Denver, Colorado, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told his audience, "You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year" (see the related article on Denver's local news at As I read his comment, it sparked my curiosity enough to do some investigating on the topic of calendar modification as it relates to student achievement. Based on my quick review, substantial evidence does not directly support a modified school schedule. An AERA published article says it this way: "Thus it would be inappropriate to suggest that the current evidence indicates that modified calendars have a significantly positive impact on achievement, in the practical sense" (Cooper, Valentine, Charlton, & Melson, 2003).  The authors further mention that a longitudinal study on the topic of calendar modification is needed to more closely examine the cumulative effects of such a change (pg. 43).  Likewise, Cooper and his colleagues further identified the reality that calendar modification tends to benefit student from economically disadvantaged backgrounds more than others.  In large part this is due to the realities that students in such environments are less likely to participate in extra-curricular activities (e.g., going to the zoo, park, museum, or vacation) as compared to those with a more affluent home life.

To my knowledge, Secretary Duncan has not expanded on his comment in order to shed more light on the types of reform such a reality could bring.  Will all students be attending this schedule if it is implemented?  Will teachers receive more pay for their continued dedication and hard work?

I seriously doubt many students will be in favor of such a change, especially if they are already working hard to meet the demands of an accountability-driven, standards based system. Educational quality is improving because of such accountability-based reforms, but does that mean our system should also modify the quantity of education for all students.  Until Secretary Duncan shares more insight about his suggested reforms, what do you think about modifying the current educational calendar?  

Cooper, H., Valentine, J. C., Charlton, K., & Melson, A. (2003).  The effects of modified school calendars on student achievement and on school and community attitudes.  Review of Educational Research.  73(1), 1-52.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Resources to Teach Digital Citizenship

As we live in a world surrounded by digital technologies, today's students are communicating and socializing in new ways. Facebook, Twitter and text messaging alone are rapidly expanding the social network of students. Even further, such tools offer new opportunities for learning, and are even reshaping what it means to be a student in the 21st century.

Of great concern, however, are issues related to how our students are using such tools. Often, students are living in a world absent of parental guidance. Some students are networking with strangers, using their cell phone to take and post lewd photographs of themselves (a.k.a., sexting), and be involved in such activities as cyberbullying.

To help reduce inappropriate uses of technology, educators have established guidlines and curricular materials to combat such challenges. Mike Ribble and Dr. Gerald Bailey have written, "Digital Citizenship in Schools" (2007), which is available from ISTE. Likewise, CyberSmart! offers free lesson plans to help teachers educated students about SMART technology use.