Monday, August 3, 2015

Lessons in Education, Featuring Gary Larson: Part III

By EdTechManiac, Darin Anderson

Many of Gary Larson's comic strips from The Far Side tell so much of a story without so much as a word of dialogue. With his brilliance - no matter how off-the-wall it might be - Larson can indeed draw a picture that is worth well more than a thousand words.

In Part III of the EdTechManiacs comical Gary Larson series (see Parts I and II here), we will discuss how the "delicious" dish of liver and onions relates to the kinds of products we deliver to our students in the classroom and to teachers in schools across the country.
Compare this comic to a classroom
setting from your past. What did you learn?
This Larson offering is both playing off of the innocence of youth and preying upon the insecurities of all of us. Remember, ages ago, when you would clamber outside at the very sound of the ice cream truck rolling down your street? Do you also recall the opposite emotions upon finding out that your mom was making your least favorite meal that night? (Mine was goopy and neon green split pea soup.) This cartoon sums up both the elation of summertime treats and the gloom of unappetizing fare.

Honestly, most of us are fairly competent at sniffing out each kind of opportunity. As the old adage goes, if it looks like liver and smells like liver, it's probably liver, no matter what lengths a person goes to in order to make it seem otherwise. Our students, on one hand, are especially keen at this - and the younger they are the better they are at it.

Kindergartners enter their first year of "official school" having gone through six years of questioning and inquiry and curiosity. Many times, they also lack a filter that typically comes with maturity and age. (This is why a 5-year-old can get away with calling a man fat, while a teenager would get scolded for not knowing better.) All of this results in groups of children who know what they want ...and also what they do not want.

Our students come into our schools with preconceived ideas about what they want to learn and what they will attempt to avoid at any cost. Granted, so much of their desires center around content that schools cannot offer directly, but the students still show up with that yearning to learn more about them.

Even as traditional school may be a chief contributor to killing that creativity and inquiry, this Larson comic speaks volumes about changing school culture at fundamental and actionary levels.

How can we better gear our kids towards reaching standards outside of their control while also allowing them to achieve their own learning goals? This becomes the $68.6 billion question that educators must try to answer.

Let's begin jumping into the answers to this deep and broad subject by posing a few more questions.
  • How many educational opportunities are packaged as something inviting and cutting-edge, but really offer only outdated or irrelevant information and content?
  • Or worse, why is something viable and meaningful too often delivered via a vehicle designed for carrying disgusting meats?
  • How can we do it all without adding anything more to our already heavy plates?
To me, any response to this question begins with some analysis of your constituency - students, parents and/or staff. You may think you know what your kids need, for example, because of mandated testing, curriculum maps and such. But DO you really have a finger on the pulse of your kids? Or your staff?

Like the kids in the comic, you might be approaching them with some scrumptious liver...when they are actually looking for a dreamsicle. I mean, who would do that, right?

To a certain extent, our hands are tied when it comes to the WHAT in education. However, we have a multitude of options when it comes to the HOW. With that in mind, we can better serve others if we know more about what they like (ice cream) and what they do not (liver).

To begin, here are a few "Livers" (things that were once cool, but are now like the 8-Track) that might be better left behind:
  • Introducing and delivering content via PowerPoint - They are essentially the same as paper, but you can't doodle on them during classes or PD days.
  • Sit-and-Get lectures and PD offerings - Today's generation is mobile and agile; sitting is the new smoking
  • Pencil and Paper worksheets, graphic organizers, and, well, anything - While I understand that pencils will never become obsolete, ummm, neither will technology.
  • One-at-a-time student presentations - Not only do these take up valuable instruction time, they also take up way too much time. Did I mention that they are time-consuming as well as lengthy? Oh, and it's boring, too. 
  • Teacher-Assigned Products or Projects - Honestly, the world does not need any more landfills full of dioramas and tri-fold posters.
  • The Archaic "No Cell Phones" Poster - Nowadays, it's the same as telling folks to leave their textbooks and such at home. The mobile device is a powerful tool that can be used for good AND evil. The choice is up to you.
  • Speaking of Textbooks... - With constantly changes research landscapes, textbooks are almost outdated the moment they are published. Up-to-the-minute information is available at the touch of a screen. Why fight a losing battle when learners will head to Google anyway?
Rather than rolling down the street in our Liver-Mobile - even with the catchy trolley-style music - we could approach our Cell Mitosis unit or Standards-Based Grading PD (or whatever) from a different perspective.

Try these on for size:
  • YouTube - Your kids use should you. Perfect for flipping or blending instruction and for anytime learning.
  • Social Media - Of course, this is a biggie for most of us. So brainstorm ways to get your kids and/or peers discussing and collaborating on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • 3D Printing - What if your 2D doodles could come to life as tangible 3D objects? This is a current craze that will only gain more ground as the products advance. What was once untouchable technology if now fairly standards in most schools.
  • 4D Augmented Reality - Programs like Aurasma, Augment, and DAQRI have taken interacting with content to a whole new level. Once limited to just consumption, AR programs are now beginning to allow kids to create and publish their own 4D designs.
  • Green Screen Technology - What used to be sophisticated and expensive is now available on laptops and tablets alike. Going green allows for creativity and expression while also producing quality content that is digitally shareable. Did I mention that it also saves valuable instruction time?
  • Making the World a Classoom - Whether it is connecting with someone from abroad on Twitter or sharing resources with a classmate from across town on Google Drive, people are no longer limited to what they can see from their own location.
  • Gamification - On the heels of the recent Microsoft purchase of Minecraft, the EdTech world is all the more abuzz about combining what many kids already know - gaming - with what they "need" to know (in an academic sense). With some creative thinking Clash of Clans can indeed become a viable curriculum.
As we look to advance our field and hone our craft, we will be in a constant state of research and reflection. Change is certain. No longer should we disguise liver and onions as quality education. One taste and they'll figure it out. 

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