What questions come to mind when you look at this picture? Likely, you want to know the value of the coins. How long did you spend on the question? Did you make a guess first, or start counting the coins instinctively? How did the final answer compare with your expectations?
One simple picture, a dozen questions. As a point of comparison, consider if the picture were replaced with a block of text.
Jerry has 5 quarters and 2 nickels. Steve has 11 dimes, 15 pennies, and 2 quarters. They would like to buy candy bars that cost 75 cents each. How many candy bars can they afford?
Are you as interested in the second scenario?
What was different, though? Both have the same requirement of the student: determine the total amount of money available. The picture lets the student ask the question. There’s no prompt. It’s just a picture of some coins. With the textbook problem, the question is spelled out. All the necessary information is stated and an answer is expected. The student isn’t given the opportunity to wonder, to determine the necessary information, to generate the affordability discussion organically.
My education career started by prompting students with blocks of text. I was taught that way and the students had come to expect that and did not protest. Three years ago, I tried it the non-traditional way. I opened up the picture of coins. I asked no questions. I just waited. Thirty-seconds. A minute. The classroom exploded with discussion as thirty individuals suddenly had cause to ask “why?” Loud protests erupted when I would not reveal the answer. Thirty individuals, hooked on a math problem, dying for the answer.
Education is a tough issue. Everyone has an opinion because everyone had to go through the system. Everyone falls back on the way they were taught. Most of the time, everyone has no problem with the way they were taught and expects the same or better for their children. If the SAT score checks out in the end, the parent is satisfied.
Generating quality education engages an entire new set of opinions. Everyone knows how to crack it. More homework, less homework, more spending, less spending, and of course, technology. Lots of technology. Technology will disrupt education, they say. Students can learn what they want, when they want with the right technology. There’s a video for everything, and according to vague research, it works.
Well the jury may still be out, but the statistics are in, the statistics are showing in all aspects of education, computers are helping dramatically in terms of comprehension of information, in terms of the ability to develop analytical thinking, basic skills like math functions, etc. In just about all the ways of measuring these things, all the kinds of things you want out of education are in fact increased when you do use computers.
Sounds like something you could read today about Sal Khan or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Or a speech from a school board member that just approved a one laptop per child program. Or pulled from a press release announcing a lucrative iPad contract. Yet, it’s a quote from Computer Chronicles in 1991.
It seems easy to fix things with the right technology investment. Technology can be bought. It can be shown to concerned parents and city officials. It makes your school look forward thinking. Students are getting necessary 21st century skills thanks to the computers. Higher test scores are around the corner thanks to the computers. Students love every minute of their modern education experience thanks to the computers. Buying technology is great. Students using the technology is great. But how are they using it? How are the learning experiences different? What are they doing that’s not a derivative of outmoded instruction? Students reading blocks of text on a screen is no improvement over reading blocks of text in a book.
Last fall Apple revamped its Education page. It features testimonials from teachers using iPads in the classroom and has a few videos from schools that have deployed the devices at a large scale. All of the material is designed to show you what’s possible with iPads and Macs in the classroom. Students will be filled with awe, wonder, and be ready for the 21st century if someone just buys them an iPad. Seriously, look how they love using iMovie.
Study the videos closely though. Specifically, the tale of Burlington High School in Burlington, MA. Students do revolutionary things like sit silently at their desk (1:03), take notes about a paper textbook (1:25), take a picture of a transparency on an overhead projector (2:10), add notes to a digital version of a textbook (3:51), and sing from PDF sheet music (4:29)