Monday, August 30, 2010

Mixed Tapes and Mixed Messages

I was talking with a friend the other day about how much music has changed and starting thinking about how music represents the speed of change in technology.  The phonograph was invented sometime in the 1870s and was around for over a hundred years, and many people still swear by their vinyl.  I remember as a kid being given my own Fisher Price turn table and listening to my read-along books, buying Billy Joel, Duran Duran and ABBA albums.  Cassette tapes became more common and then I entered my teen-aged years and mixed-tapes were quite the labour of love.

The amount of time and planning that went into making a mixed tape was insane!  I remember getting all of the cassette tapes out, planning what I wanted to be on that tape, was the tape for me or was it for that someone special...  Fast forwarding, rewinding, cuing, redoing and then dubbing.  While the song was being recorded I would start writing out the song on a sheet of paper in case I had to change the order because I ran out of space on the tape and had to flip it over to the other side.  Once the tape was done there was the matter of writing on the casette tape cover  the song list.  Cd's made the mixed tapes a little easier, but man o man did burning ever make the art of the mixed tape disappear.  Going into iTunes, creating the mix, burning and printing the CD cover took less time then doing one song on a tape.  Now with the iPod I have so many mixes and am not limited by time constraints at all.

I have not bought a single CD since iTunes was launched in Canada.  My time might be off, but basically the record player was around for over 100 years, the tape deck for around 25, cd players are slowly being phased out so they made it about 15 years and now everything is digital (8-track is in there somewhere in the timeline, but I feel as though it went the way of the Betamax videos).  The speed of change is amazing.  I was asking a couple of grade 4s to check out our ghetto blasters and I gave them a cd and a tape.  They looked at the tape with a very puzzled look and asked me, rather sheepishly, how does it work?

The speed of change in computers has not given people the time to adapt, unlike the music players.  There was not really a precursor for people to adjust to.  We got our first computer when I was in grade 6 or 7 and to be able to do a e with an accent required about 6 key strokes before and about the same after.  The dot matrix printer was loud, long and a pain, especially if you wanted to bold or underline.  The floppy disks were the size of the old singles records and loading a program onto the computer required about 7 disks and a lot of patience.  Not many people bothered.

We have many people who have only embraced a part of the power of IT.  Doing searches on the Internet and checking email is the online repertoire for many and using Word is about it.  The generation gap has never been more evident.  Once computer labs were in place we put a specialist in and IT was taught completely separately from other areas.  IT had its own curriculum and prescribed learning outcomes.  There were specific learning outcomes that students were expected to learn and teachers were expected to teach.  ICT took another turn in our province and it was no longer a separate entity on its own, but it was never really announced.  A lot of people were surprised that it no longer stood on its own.  This is where the mixed messages seem to come.

Everywhere I look people are talking about the amazing abilities of students as well as their learning needs.  There are videos being made demonstrating the needs such as the video by New Brunswick , A vision of K-12 students and Education Today and Tomorrow

When ICT was expected to be integrated, where was the push?  In comparison to problem solving in Math, the ICT changes have been rather muted.  When the BC Math curriculum changed to remove problem solving as a separate unit and was instead to be integrated into the day to day teaching there were a couple of key statements added to the Rationale of the Mathematics K-7 2007 IRP (Integrated Resource Package:  )
1) "Numeracy can be defined as the combination of mathematical knowledge, problem solving and communication skills required by all persons to function successfully within our technological world.  Numeracy is more than knowing about numbers and number operations. (British Columbia Association of Mathematics Teachers 1998)
2) "The learning environment should value and respect all students’ experiences and ways of thinking, so that learners are comfortable taking intellectual risks, asking questions and posing conjectures. Students need to explore problem-solving situations in order to develop personal strategies and become mathematically literate. Learners must realize that it is acceptable to solve problems in different ways and that solutions mayvary. Positive learning experiences build self-confidenceand develop attitudes that value learning mathematics."

These two statements and the push by the ministry and districts with pro-d, textbooks and other resources made it clear that it was expected that numeracy was going to be a part of the day to day teaching of math.  The technology component, in my opinion, has not been as clearly stated nor pushed.

The English Language Arts Kindergarten to Grade 7 (2006) IRP states in its introduction that "The development of literacy is a key focus of this curriculum. The rapid expansion in the use of technology and media has expanded the concept of what it is to be literate. Literacy today involves being able to understand and process oral, written, electronic, and multi-media forms of communication. This curriculum acknowledges that students learn and develop at different rates and that the time frame for literacy development will vary."

The Science K to 7 (2005) document states "Diverse experiences in a Science program will provide students with many opportunities to understand their interrelationships among science, technology, and society that will affect their personal lives, their careers, and their future."  The Social Studies K to 7 (2006) has essentially no mention of technology at all.

There is a resource package that is available called Information Technology Resource Document (K – 7) that was published in 1996 and on the very first page states: "This document is available only as a resource for teachers and is not an IRP. Neither is it listed on the Education Program Guide Order. It is still expected that students will gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes described in this document but it is expected that the teaching and learning will be integrated across all other subject areas. Information and communications technology is a tool to support and enhance student learning. The learning outcomes described in this document should be incorporated into all of the learning students are engaged in.
The K-7 Information Technology resource document can also serve to assist schools and districts with requirements for school and district technology plans."

I am finding that the technology piece is a mixed message.  There are expectations that it will be integrated without a clear direction.  The only document available is something that is 15 years old and not really representative of what can be done today.  Elementary students see a lot of kidpix and typing tutor and the infrastructure, equipment and priorities are as diverse as the students.  Our district has very good IT support, with IT support teachers who are incredibly hard working and have great ideas and resources.  We do have our limitations due to financial constraints, but for the most part the opportunities are there.

The challenge that I see is that there are no clear learning outcomes so some schools are uncertain as to where to start.  If they do not have a person who is comfortable with IT it makes it even more challenging. If the computers are old and slow or the Internet connections are weak, or even worse a combination of both, then the motivation is going to be seriously wanting.  Do we need a scope and sequence?  Do we need a mandate?

The beauty of teacher autonomy is that it offers different ways of presenting the curriculum to the students so that different learning styles are tapped throughout their academic lives.  This allows for greater creativity in the teaching of the outcomes and I feel offers a greater opportunity to make important connections.  The downfall of autonomy is that if it is not prescribed it does not necessarily have to be done.  Is typing out projects on the computer in word or doing a project on PowerPoint sufficient at the elementary level to state that the needs are being met?  How do we make technology a priority when the mandate is a mixed message?

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