Sunday, July 10, 2011

Slow seeing

If you want to kill a child's interest in astronomy, buy her the biggest piece of glass you can afford the first hour she expresses any interest in the stars. Make sure it's got a computer-guided star finder, and that it "talks" to her as she explores the skies. Better yet, have her log onto a remote telescope where she can "guide" the scope to spectacular deep sky objects, seeing details on a screen that would dazzle Galileo himself.

I wouldn't give a child on a tricycle the keys to a Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R just because she's decided she want to advance to a bicycle (even if motorcycles did come with training wheels).

There is a push, a huge push, to digitize classrooms, to get connected, to leap into the 21st century. It's all quite exciting, and there's plenty of money to be made, and ooh, shiny, shiny!

Many of those who hawk promote the digital classroom, presumably for the best interests of the children, seem particularly prone to a binary view of the universe. If you're not with us, you're against us.

I know they are busy people--so many new gadgets, so little time to master the New Best Thing--but they're screwing up the ed world a bit with their listlessness. I'll make this quick.

A child who cannot see the grace of a caterpillar using only her eyes and enough free time to think will not benefit from a magnifying glass.

A child who cannot see the finer details offered by a magnifying glass, a tool used with the caterpillar still whole (and alive), will gain nothing by looking at a slide of caterpillar tissue under a microscope, and the child might reasonably ask if you really needed to kill the caterpillar.

Gypsy moth caterpillar, by Materialscientist

Here's my point. Put down the iPad for a moment, stop texting, let your scattered thoughts dissipate.

Humans have the same cognitive and sensory tools today that we had a few generations ago. Observing the world is an acquired skill that cannot be learned through a screen. It requires interest, it requires time, and it requires building an internal scaffold that allows the child to make some sense of this universe.

Very few high school sophomores observe well, and it's to our shame that those who do, often do despite their formal education. My best students of the natural world are often the least able to function in a classroom.

Before you jam down the latest version of the Graflex Schoolmaster 750 filmstrip projector into my classroom--and when you get down to it, the Smart Board doesn't add a whole lot to the original concept--make sure you have given me enough time and space to teach the children how to see.

Give that much room, then you can have them to manipulate as you will. If I have done my work well, their excrement detectors will scream at the crap that passes for rational discourse these days. Good teachers--parents, neighbors, school teachers, librarians, the corner philosopher ranting at the #34 NJ Transit bus every time it rolls by--focus on meeting a child where she is in the universe, and just about all children are a decade or two away from mastering a scanning electron microscope or a raging road bike like the Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300. Some of them will never be ready for either, and that's OK, too.

Ironically, anyone who takes the time to look around can see that we are blindly headed to catastrophe. We cannot afford another generation of Americans who think they'd rather not think.

The Suzuki phot came from Motorcycle Best Picture blog--don't know yet who to credit.
The caterpillar is from Wikipedia by Materialscientist, released under GNU FDL
The Brayco Projector ad taken from The Bray Animation Project, permission pending


Summers School said...

You're right, the technology doesn't do the teaching and it doesn't teach the wonder. However, if I only have materials for either each group of 4-5 to do it once, or for our large group to do it 7 times, there are times I'll do it whole group and point my document camera at it so everyone can see. The technology is there to help us teachers to help them.

Tracy Rosen said...

It seems that whenever I'm in a certain train of thought I just need to come here to have it confirmed...

Reminds me a bit of my latest post, called 'Questions about tech and children'.

How are you Michael? I'm keeping busy with my little Jack who, I can tell from how he carefully analyzes the world around him, is going to really like his science class. Let's hope it stays hands on and isn't too altered by the gadgets that are available. Makes me think of that line - just because we can doesn't mean we should.

doyle said...

Dear Summers,

Oh, no doubt much of what we can reproduce makes some aspects of teaching much, nuch easier than a generation or two ago.

If the 'document' (I'm not clear what kind of work this is) is produced as a group the first time, then I worry that the subsequent groups lose something in the process.

I have a Smart Board--as you likely know, the IWB can replicate whatever I do in real time later.

I used it for that purpose once or twice--but I value the process more than the outcome. I'm a high school teacher, not a PhD working on cutting edge research. (It is a wonderful way to save stuff for kids who are absent, but even then, one-on-one works better, and I don't mind spending the time--because it works better.)

I will say this--I have a fairly cheap camera that I use to project stuff via the projector put in for the Smart Board--and that combination has been great fun! Heck, they use a fancy version of this at Google--I saw (virtually) the xkcd guy give a talk using it. Beats the Smart Board hands down.

But yeah, anything that makes the repetitive tasks easier is often a HUGE plus with technology.

Thanks for dropping by....


doyle said...

Dear Tracy,

If I'm just confirming your train of thought, I'm not trying hard enough. =)

I have been pondering your question about tech and children for a couple of days now. I plan to get to it one of these days. I am trying to figure out how to be concise, conscientious, and kind when I respond--the question bonked me right on the amygdala.

The "just because we can" has led to horrible consequences.


Tracy Rosen said...

Oh let me have it, Michael :) I'm looking forward to your response.

Bill Sadler said...

Cliff Stoll in his TED lecture talks about the importance of student interest. Students today are the best at using technology.... poorly. Students have a difficult time locating references or answering questions. They need no instruction in texting or social media. They need direction using technology as a resource or reference tool.

doyle said...

Dear Tracy,

Which post did you ask the question? I want to answer, but this Luddite needs some guidance.

Dear Bill,

Amen. My lads and lasses are lost. We give them too much credit as digital natives---they're lost, and we have abandoned them.

Too many of us do not grasp that we are the adults.

July 18, 2011 9:46 PM