Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Teaching the public to look ahead

Anyone who has attempted to pass a public funding referendum for education knows how difficult it can be to convince John and Jane Q. Public of the merits of certain types of teaching. We're facing a revolution in teaching methodology, largely due to emerging communications and collaboration tools. But it's a tough sell.

An article posted last month on the Twin Cities Pioneer Press website has generated over 150 comments, the majority of which are critical and even hostile toward those teaching with iPods. The story takes place at Somerset Elementary, where math, spelling and other topics are taught interactively using the devices:

For fourth-grader Gabe Rivera, running vocabulary drills and solving mathematical problems on his classroom iPod Touch is a fun way to learn, in part because it's "something that is more newer than paper."


Rivera's teacher, Jean Stai, had to impose little discipline as her kids lost themselves in Word Salad, a vocabulary program, TanZen, a geometry app, and States and Capitols, among others.

Her biggest challenge appeared to be prying the kids from one app so they'd switch to another. The students were handed sheets with short, personalized lists of apps each had to try.

"They're so engaged," Stai said. "Suddenly, it's not so horrifying to study your facts tables. It is like a game. What would be tedious with paper and pencil is no longer so with bright colors and things moving around."

For those of us interested in cutting-edge education, this is an inspiring story. For others, it plays into misconceptions of wasteful spending, dwindling attention spans, and the causes of outsourcing. Difficult economic times have resulted in passionate opinion and political polarity even on the most necessary of social programs, such as education.

The challenge is apparently one of popularizing new ways of teaching. How do we convince the public that their money is well spent on, and their children well-educated by new types of teaching tools? History shows that change is slow, especially on a global scale. Still, one can't help but be motivated by this type of success even as we're disheartened by the public response.

We'll need to keep moving, one step at a time. What's your next step?

(Thanks to Julie for the article tip)

Read more on teaching with iPods


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