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Examinations, Assessment tasks and all of the above

It’s that time of the semester again. Students hit the books doing their first piece of work all semester trying to learn 13 weeks worth of work in an hour before an exam. No? Perhaps thats just me.

Examinations. Are they really necessary?

I’ve just arrived home after completing an exam worth 40% of my final grade in a unit which I’m sure to fail because my lecturer and tutor consider me far too ‘opinionated’. Ironically, the unit is based on pedagogy (yes, that wanky term again) and the relevance of assessment.

Throughout the unit, we’ve focused on the importance of assessments and social constructivism (for those who have no idea what that is, I wrote a blog about it, check it out here). Basically there is this dude called Lev Vygotsky, his theory of teaching is that students learn on two levels, first on a social level whether students can discuss and share information therefore furthering their initial knowledge. The second level is an individual or independent stage whereby the student has the opportunity to recall information and learn it so that it is made relevant to them as well as memorable.

This is all sunshine and lollipops obviously, however the little bit hidden in the fine print is that social constructivism focuses on making (authentic) assessments engaging and relevant to real life experiences for future careers or life choices.

Practical experience v Written knowledge

Now you’ll notice I said “(authentic) assessments”. Authentic assessments are exactly what we’re been performing in this unit, writing lesson plans and programming – both completely 100% relevant to our future as a teacher/educator.

I fail to see why if we’re pushing forward into this idea of education as a means of social understanding and group work, that we are stuck in the past understaking (traditional) assessments. A traditional assessment for those wondering is a written or oral test where a student recalls and regurgitates information for a teacher who has a scaffold answer they are rewarding marks for.

Therefore, to continue this rant/blog, I again question, if we (education uni students) are encouraged to be making assessments of a higher level of thought (refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy) and making it engaging and relevant, why am I forced to sit in a lecture room with 150 other people – freezing with the air conditioning on and boiling with it off – to write down 13 weeks worth of information in the space of two hours.

What have I achieved by performing this task?

What experience have I learnt and will now go and share with my peers?

I also have to ask, if this ‘death of education, birth of student centred learning’ is in fact true, then what will happen to the HSC (Higher School Certificate [NSW]) or the major examinations at the end of grade schools?

Examinations. Even Lisa Simpson struggles with them.

Is having students sit numerous exams which is marked purely on content and not creativity or practicality really futuristic? Do I just like asking a lot of rhetorical questions because I don’t know the answer? Yes (irony!)

I plan on leaving this blog here. It is rather short I know (and rather passionate), but I would love to hear what your thoughts are on the relevance and/or importance of examinations testing how well a student can retell information under the pressure of an examination.

Either drop me a comment below or send me a tweet @petenowakowski.

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Mobile Learning

A student pulls out their mobile phone to go to dictionary.com because they don’t understand the meaning of a word. The teacher yells at them to put their phone away. This is the reality of school.

Why is it that teacher’s are so afraid of students using technology to gain knowledge. After all, education in modern society has moved on from ‘what’ has been learnt to ‘how’ it is learnt. The important notion here is not a revolution of the education system with technology being the key player in this contest, rather the term which we should be using is evolution.

It is this constant accessibility to computers, not so much laptops or desktops, but rather mobile learning devices such as the Nova Datacom, iPhones and iPads which need to be used much more effectively than what they are currently. Attached is an article about the use of iPads and whether or not the DET (Department of Educating and Training NSW) thought the use of iPads as an educational tool was effective or not.

iPads as an educational tool? Say it isn't true!

Here I raise the issue, are we really using technology appropriately, or are we using it just for the sake of being able to say that the school is providing the students with the latest technologies.

Ultimately, technology should be used as a means of assisting students to achieve in any and all areas possible. There are a number of ways which this can be done, especially through the use of social media sources such as Twitter for a journalism unit in the English curriculum or even the use of podcasts both created by the teacher and by the students as a means of education when outside the classroom.

Technology is so much more than just giving students a laptop or an iPad, so why are teacher’s so afraid to use it correctly?

Most of the time, my answer would be the simple lack of training and support provided by the schools in order to train these teachers. Well, don’t think that there is no training provided, because it is on offer, but there is little to no attractiveness in participating and completing the training sessions.

Students at the centre of learning, not a product of education

This all comes down to the issue of whether or not this is the death of education thanks to the evolution of learning. As Stephen Heppell has exclaimed in his video, Empowering Young Learners, “every turned off device is a turned off child”. Heppell suggests that the role of the school has shifted from this centre of education and learning to being a place of ‘glue’ – trying to draw the attention of the students from sources of knowledge such as YouTube, Twitter and even games.

Games. You might think that they are all shooting, racing, sports or family based, however there is a relevance behind it all. For instance, at the school I work at, we advertise our Delicious page as much as possible. Here students can play and learn through activities experienced on their mobile devices.

One game which I enjoy letting the students play is Present Tense Golf Practice. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s hard to lose.

This is now my favourite part of the blog. My opinion and ‘critical’ reflection.

Mobile Learning. Is it the next best thing? No, it’s the current best thing. I highly recommend that you go off and watch Educating the Mobile Generation with philosophical discussion provided by Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris, as well as The Myths of Opportunities of Technology in the Classroom narrated by Alan November

Perhaps this technology evolution is in fact the death of education, I just hope there is still a job for me after I’ve finished my five years of university!

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Pedagogical beliefs and ICT integration

Pedagogy. It’s just a wanky term to describe the theory and practice of teaching.

You might say I sound a bit like Marc Fennell thanks to me making a statement like this, and to be fair, I’d agree. In fact, if you are reading this Triple J crew, I have both radio and written experience, can I have a job? Anyway….

An empty library bookshelf - the joys of funding!

This blog is meant to focus on two theorists, the first being the study of one guy who’s name is Peg Ertmer (bet he didn’t get teased at school with a name like that) whereby I’ll be looking at his philosophy: Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs and Classroom Technology Use: A Critical Link. The second work I’ll be referring to is Mark Brown’s The Growth of Enterprise Pedagogy which will probably put you to sleep just like it did to me.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you will have seen me mention the fact that the government recently decided to throw as much money towards school and whatever the school could catch, they kept. As always, there are schools who have deeper pockets than others and were also to catch more money – *cough* Private and Independent schools for examples.

Where did the money go? Technology.

It seems that every school went absolutely bananas in spending millions of dollars on laptops or iPads for the students, IWBs (Interactive WhiteBoards) in classrooms and installing wifi hotspots in every nook and cranny in the school. Although I have many, many issues with the way the money was spent, the main issue I have is that with the money going towards the

The latest and newest technologies.

technology, is there anything left to train the staff and students in using these new toys?

Dr. Brown’s paper focuses on this issues, suggesting that perhaps schools and departments are focusing far too heavily on how to use ICT in the classroom, that they are moving away from the ability to teach the content necessary for the students to receive academic greatness.

I have to say I agree. In my last blog, ICT as a Cognitive Tool, I provided a WebQuest I’ve made before. The quest itself should take 3-4 lessons with one of those explaining the task itself in detail. The timeframe I spend creating the quest and the task out weigh that of the activity itself. Therefore I have to ask myself, was it worth it? No, I don’t think so.

Ertmer suggests that what we are missing out on most here is the relationship between “pedagogical beliefs and technology practices”. Apparently there is even training ‘readily’ available in assisting teachers/educators in strengthening this link. Personally I’ve never seen or heard of this happening, although I do work for a CEO school in a low socio-economic demographic. For the sake of a four word rant, all I’ll say here is THE FUNDING IS HORRIBLE.

Acting as something of a voice  for the school I work at, I’m simply saying I’d rather spend the money on redeveloping the ‘Learning Support’ department of the school where the equipment is in the same condition as it was when I was at school. This concept of moving forward in time and with technology seems to have missed us. I don’t think we really need to worry so much about the theory of teaching, rather we need to worry more about who is readily available to help us with our teaching.

Anyway, thats a blog for another day.

Should ICT become the focus of our classrooms? Gosh, I hope not! Well it won’t in my classroom. Sure, I see the relevance behind being able to use an IWB in a classroom rather than using a textbook and chalkboard, however I don’t think that the way forward is to have such faith in technology.

It seems a lot of people are suggesting that with these ‘advances’ in technology, that magically the students will become interested in Chemistry or in Food Tech classes, rather I think the way forward from where we are right now is to look back.

Technology screws up. Overhead projectors don’t.

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ICT as a cognitive tool

Despite the fancy title, this blog is about the use of IWBs, or if you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years when the government was handing out money to schools faster than they could print it, Interactive WhiteBoards.

Yes, thats correct, put away your chalk, throw away your dusters, move aside whiteboard markers, there is a new toy in town. I present to you, the Promethean board…. *cue evil music*

A teacher shows off his skills of using an IWB

Quite possibly one of the most misunderstood and misused tools in modern education, the IWB has become the newest edition to collection of sources for teacher’s to display information.

Back in kindergarten, we had blackboard and chalk. The teacher would write things on the board, we would recite them and then move on. By Year 2, we had whiteboards in our classrooms, the same concept applied, however the ‘teacher’s pet’ was allowed to write on the board sometimes (never got to write on the board #sadface). As I hit high school, teachers photocopied so many sheets I swear half the rainforest’s destruction is because of them. Then came the data projector, a means for teachers to spend twice as long as they would previously would by having to research and type up their information in order to display it. This technology was amazing, mainly because setting up the equipment took up half the lesson, and then pulling it apart took the other half of the lesson.

The concept of an IWB is meant to create an atmosphere in the classroom for more involvement between teacher and student, discussion amongst students and to basically make the teacher look ‘hip’ and up to date with the technologies of today’s society.

If using an ‘interactive whiteboard’ isn’t cool enough for you, someone decided that the students could use technology such as this to complete missions and tasks which have earned the horrific label, WebQuest.

Get this, it's a quest that students have to do, on the web! Amazing!

Since I’m feeling rather jolly today, I’ve decided to provide you with a link to a WebQuest I’ve actually made and is being used by a class I team-teach. See this link here -> The Lion King Webquest <- thats the WebQuest right there. Click on it. You know you want to.

So you ask, why on earth do we need to have things like IWBs, let alone why should we use WebQuests?

Lets think about this for a second here, students in school today, your brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, girlfriends, whatever the relation, you’ll know first hand getting kids to sit still for a 40-60 minute lesson is a mission and a half. Honest, at the end of every class I think I’m worthy of a medal or an award to say ‘Best Use of Social Media’ (bit of a dig there aimed at Australian Football). The important thing is to get students up off their seats, learning as a group and using oral language skills to explore and explain what they have learnt.

In an English class for example, how can you get a student to care about Shakespeare? Too often I’ve heard shouts of “he was that poofter wasn’t he?”. This is where the teachers under the age of 300 (bit of an exaggeration perhaps) possibly need to change their style of educating. At university we’re focusing on a means of getting the students to engage with their texts on a bigger scale rather than it being a ‘read the book, saw the film, bought the t-shirt’ situation. The idea of lecturing and tutoring students is out the door, or is it?

Some people subscribe to this concept of learning styles. If I lectured to you for 50 minutes straight about the use of John Williams’ music in films such as Star Wars, Jaws or Indiana Jones, there is a good chance you’ll hear about half of what I say, maybe pick up some key words but that will be about it. If I showed you pictures and sat there in absolute silence, getting you to explain to me the relevance behind it all, you’re orally conveying your foundation knowledge which is basically just reciting whatever you already know.

The Blackboard vs the Promethean board

Now, if I take you to a room which has a Promethean board in it and we work together to share knowledge and understanding, take in information from others. Suddenly things start to make sense. But really, is this much different from when I was back in kindy and we were sharing information on a blackboard?

Sure, by using an IWB I can change the colour of the pen, use a highlighter, create shapes for mind maps, calculate quantum physics and ‘surf’ the web, but with a blackboard I want change the colour pen I’m using, I am underline important words, solve huge mathematical equations with my head not a calculator. But is being on a computer constantly really THAT important?

This is the article I had to read for this week’s class, it’s amazing in providing the basic understanding for how to use a IWB, but I’d rather have a whiteboard any day.

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Social Constructivism

You are probably looking at your computer scene rather blanking, questioning what on earth Social Constructivism actually means. According to Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge), I got this definition:

“Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructionism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings.”

Although this definition is valid, it’s just so long and boring. Social Constructivism effectively means group work. A place for ideas to be shared and knowledge to be distributed among attendees. I managed to say that in fewer words. I’m awesome like that.

Still have no idea what I’m talking about, why not check out this video:

Universities these days are trying to educate future teachers to shy away from the old ‘stick an over head up and get the class to write it all down’ method, rather are emphasising the concept of student based learning and the importance of group work.

There are two ways to view this form of education, first up is the ‘social construction’ side which is the concept of working in these smaller groups in an attempt to boost the discussion of ideas. Quite possibly the most important elements of this concept of learning is that the teacher/educator/whatever-they-want-to-be-called-this-week acts purely as a facilitator allowing the students to convey their informational both verbally and in a written format.

Having worked at a school first hand, I can say that this concept does work in a mid-upper ability class who are able to share their knowledge and understanding. If you’re teaching a lower ability group, this notion is harder to attempt, although not impossible.

Social Constructivism at work

The second form in which this concept is viewed is the ‘social constructivist’ idea, whereby it’s focused on the knowledge the individual gains from the group’s analysis due to involvement.

The big question of this blog however is does this actually work in a school environment. Because we’re not just talking about students working together, we’re talking about changing the physical environment of the classroom. No longer is the focus on the teacher, rather students are now sitting in groups of 4-6 in a rectangular shape or in a circle. The attention is lost from the from of the room isn’t it?

Two theorists, Jean Piaget and Lee Vygotsky don’t think so, if fact they welcome this idea!

Piaget proposes a system of cognitive development which focuses on the ability to acquire knowledge, understand and interpret it, and finally be able to use it wisely (knowledge = power?). This concept focuses on the learning processes and development of understanding from ages 7 to 11. Effectively, Piaget is saying that between these years, students gain core knowledge and understanding and it is from here that the school environment is meant to build upon this knowledge.

This all sounds pretty and nice, but Piaget’s theory basically suggests that by the time that the students reach school we can’t teach them anything new. This I think is a load of bollocks. I’m still learning things every day and I’m almost 22! I might end up writing a new blog about this in the future, so stay tuned for details.

Born in 1896 in Russia, this Soviet psychologist has been labelled as the founder of cultural-historical psychology. ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, *drum roll*…. Lee Vygotsky! His philosophy focuses more on psychological development – first being on a social level and then on an individual stage.

Vygotsky’s text, Thought and Language suggest that the relationship between words and consciousness arguing that children only develop knowledge through internalised verbal thought. It’s here I would like to through another quote by the alternative source of all knowledge, The Simpsons.

Homer: Will you knock it off, I can't hear myself think!
[the music stops]
Brain: I want some peanuts.
Homer: That's better!I want some peanuts.

(For audio of this scene, click here)

So with these two combined, we’ve got Piaget saying that we need to learn everything possibly by the age 11, because the moment we clock over to age 12 thats if, we can only build on that knowledge. Vygotsky wants students to verbally convey their information so that they understand it better.

I’ll end this blog by saying this. To me, education is about experiences. Learn by doing in other words. Although Piaget’s content is valid, I just don’t believe that it is worthwhile to be discussing in this modern world. After all, he’s got his facts wrong, you learn everything you’ll ever need to know in Kindergarten. Vygotsky’s discussion makes sense, and is something I’m attempting to put into practice at the school I work at, however it isn’t enough for students to just say the term in their head, they need to hear and use the term 7-10 orally before it will stick in their head. Trust me.

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Digital Natives Debate

As I type this on my MacBook, I’m tweeting using my HTC Legend and listening on my iPod to a remix recorded on someone’s iPhone at a concert in France. Whilst this is happening, a mate of mine is upstairs playing Call of Duty on the Xbox Live network with people across the world. Am I a digital native? All signs at the moment are pointing towards yes.

Digital Native or Digital Immigrant?

Born in 1989, there is not one point in my life where I have not had a computer within an arm’s reach, starting off with the classic desktops which weighed more than my current car and to make it work you had to turn on and off the power both at the powerpoint, and then at the back of the computer, go have a bath or shower and by the time you got back it was almost finished loading. Arguably my favourite element was the dot-matrix printing. Printers these days don’t make enough noise. It really does sadden me.

With time I’ve moved forward to Windows 95, followed by 98 (the best operating system Windows ever released), XP and then finally, converting to the dark side (mainly because they had cookies) and in 2008, I bought my first Mac. It is rather true what they say, once you go Mac, you never go back (or something like that).

You might think I’m just taking up words to fill a specified limit, however I’m not! Honest! One theorist who we’ve looked at during my ICT based unit at university is Marc Prensky. Born in 1946, Prensky is a self confessed ‘digital immigrant’ and something of a revolutionist through his papers and teachings providing educators and students alike new methods of learning through 21st century equipment.

The future of learning

There is no doubt that the students in today’s society is vastly different to those from the 1950’s for instance, and it is this concept which Prensky continues to make in his article. Whether you want to label me as ‘Gen X’, the ‘D [Digital] Generation’, ‘Net Gen’ or incorrectly as the ‘iGen’, the thing to keep in mind is that technology is a HUGE part of my life and always will be.

 

There are a number of people who some (like me) label the digital immigrant population as just plain old and out of date. These immigrants grew up scribbling notes in the dirt, bashing two rocks together to record historical events down in pictogram form and even using and evil object which has earned the name, a bio pen. Horrible thoughts they are.

It is this generation who use technology as a means of ‘staying up to date’ and you will receive calls from asking if you got an email they sent you last night sending links to LOLcats or to the LOLcat Bible exclaiming it is a new and exciting thing.

The main thing here is to try and bring these two parties together, hopefully so that the natives can stop laughing at the lack of skills immigrants have to use the latest in presentation software – Microsoft PowerPoint. As well as this, immigrants need to realise that just because when they were growing up and at school, they studied in absolute silence and didn’t “TLK LYK DIS” that times have moved on.

Ultimately this all comes down to the communication methods used between the natives (students) and immigrants (generally teachers or parents). Sometimes it is important to “catch up with the others by going slower than them” (quoting The Simpsons again here if you didn’t notice). The question is, natives are ready to learn but are immigrants ready to educate?

Perhaps it’s time that the ‘masters’ let their students teach them something and stepped aside. Technology is here to stay, will you?

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Time to start blogging

From left to right: Pete Nowakowski, Matt Greenlaw, Christian Layland

Although this is not my first blog, this is a first I can claim as a uni assessment. I guess the best thing to do now would be to introduce myself, and give you an insight into my world.

My name is Pete Nowakowski, I’m a 21 year old uni student from Sydney. Studying to become a teacher basically because the holidays are brilliant and because thanks to me being male, I’m more likely to get a job and get promoted a lot easier than female staff (rather sexist I know, but it’s true).

I’m also something of a journalist, writing for a website called The Football Sack (www.thefootballsack.com). There I co-host a podcast, an avid writer of match reports and opinion pieces as well as being social media co-ordinator, which means their twitter account is my baby.

I also host a radio show on a Sunday morning from 8-9am called Beyond the 90. The time slot is horrible, but the only time I could get. You can listen to my show either by tuning tonight 2GLF – 89.3FM or online http://www.893fm.com.au.

If you are on twitter, feel free to follow me: @petenowakowski is where you’ll find me, my ‘work’ accounts are @TheFootballSack and @Beyondthe90.

Effectively from here on in, all my blogs will be based on a assessment, however if I feel up to it, I might blog some football bollocks.

Hope you’re looking forward to this as much as I am (hint: I can be ridiculously sarcastic when I want to be)

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