Winter Break Reading

One of the best parts of winter break is that I actually have large chunks of time where I can sit down and read – rather than just the 30 minutes of SSR time at school. After racing my way through The Hunger Games trilogy, I spent a chunk of time last night and today reading articles about education. Specifically, I had come across a link to an Alfie Kohn article talking about educational research and some of the ways it is used improperly. As a scientist who is always on the lookout for ways that scientific data is ignored or misrepresented in the media (teachable moments, you know!) I thought it was interesting to look at educational research in the same way. It’s kind of a long article, but if you have the time its worth reading. The last portion – a more in depth analysis of research about homework and its (lack of) benefits – was very intriguing.

After reading the article, I perused Kohn’s website for a while as well, and looked at a few of his other articles as well. I can understand conservative critics finding issue with his progressive views, but I surely appreciate his critical look at many “common sense” practices. In many ways, it reminds me of similar ideas in Ken Kumashiro’s book, Against Common Sense (which I read for class this past semester).

Another book I received for Christmas is called Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. I’ve only looked at the first few pages; I will give a more complete review when I’ve finished it!

I’ve also found a few articles about modeling in science; not sure if I will have time for them this break but they are on my list as well.


The 5TTT (5 Tech Teaching Tools) program is a new professional development program being offered by the Media Specialist at my school, and those of us that are participating are given one technology task a month to complete, through the end of the year. First up is using a blog* – which I’ve already got some experience with.

The first task is to watch and post the following video:

I’m intrigued by this video, and I agree with a lot of what they are saying. I constantly struggle with the idea of what “learning” means, especially when kids have access to such a wealth of information via the internet. It seems that the idea of memorization (which is not the entirety of schooling) is a bit outdated; if students can look something up in 5 seconds rather than spending at least 5 hours to memorize it, why should they? At the same time, memory is a key part of intelligence – and until computers and the internet are directly hooked up to our brains to store of information that can readily be accessed, it is a skill that needs to be practiced and taught to students. I am not saying we need to make students memorize facts (like the fact that Columbus sailed in 1492) but in order to synthesize information you need to be aware that the information exists.

Another piece that really stood out to me was one of the guys in the video talking about what students need to be able to do:

“…the coin of the realm will be, do you know how to find information, do you know how to validate it, do you know how to synthesize it, do you know how to leverage it, do you know how to communicate with it, do you know how to collaborate with it, do you know how to problem solve with it. THAT’S the new set of 21st century literacies.”

BOOM! (That’s the sound of my brain exploding). I couldn’t have said it better myself. We spent a lot of time in one of my grad school classes (History and Nature of Science) talking about the different ways to teach kids not only how to find GOOD information, but teaching them how to evaluate the information so they know what’s good and are able to filter through the mass of slanted/biased/crappy information that’s out there as well.

I thought a lot about a mini-project that I did with my students researching water contaminants and their effects (I even collaborated with Dhaivyd to set up a website of resources, and he gave a lesson on databases) and yet all the kids wanted to do was type their question/topic into google and copy down the first resource or resources that gave some semblance of an answer. How will they know if it’s good info? Teach them how to evaluate it.

The only statement in the video that didn’t sit well with me was when someone said something like, “a shut off device is a shut off student.” Not sure I agree with that – and if we ever get to that point, I’m very curious to see what our society is like (I’m imagining the civilization in Wall-E).

Just a quick plug as well – I’m very glad that the video took a shot at standardized testing. It seems like the only ones who don’t realize it’s hurting/hindering our students is the people who are requiring the tests (aka state and federal legislators). On a lighter note, see this article.

*This is actually a repost – I started a new blog specifically for the 5TTT; all of the blogging tasks were designed using the blogger program and not wordpress. I was surprised that some features that are quite easy to use there are not so easy here… and vice versa. Regardless, I will be posting my work from the other blog here as well.