What if technology enriches the teacher’s Socratic role?

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Posted on 19th August 2010 by Judy Breck in Next | Schools we now have

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An article today in The Chronicle of Higher Education probes the usually-assumed, seldom-challenged point that classroom teachers have to compete with technology. What if that assumption is not true? What if technology can prepare students to benefit from their teacher’s time, knowledge, and insights? There are many points and comments to value in the Chronicle piece, but why is the headline so negative toward the role of technology in teaching?: College 2.0: Teachers Without Technology Strike Back

Would not Socrates have loved it if he could have told students to take their laptops to wireless hotspots and there explore everything written in the world about a subject? Socrates would then tell these students to keep their laptops closed when they have returned to discourse that subject with him.

Socrates would likely view today’s assumed conflict between teaching and technology as a paradox.

Stand and Deliver: How Jaime Escalante did it


Posted on 23rd April 2010 by Judy Breck in Equality | Mobiles | Testing and assessment

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We are reminded in an essay today by Ruben Navarrette, Jr. that Jamie Escalante “became, in the words of Jay Matthews, education reporter for the Washington Post, ‘the most famous and influential American public school teacher of his generation.’”. Navarrette explains:

Escalante — who made East Los Angeles’ Garfield High School famous when his story was immortalized in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver – earned that title by teaching calculus to students who the school system had decreed couldn’t handle anything harder than general math.

I have had three experiences with high school classes populated by teenagers who have been judged to be limited learners. For 10 years I coordinated a New York City public schools mentor program. For two years I personally coached a debate group of about 20 student at a problem high school. For nearly thirty years I have judged citywide public high school debates. I have witnessed bountiful excellence from these kids.

The bottom line is that only individual students succeed in learning. School spirit “rah, rah,” affection for the teacher and mentor, and other teenage foibles are at the surface. When it comes to learning calculus or debate, individual students learn and master the subject one at a time.

Obviously believing in students is necessary to teach them something. Otherwise why would a teacher bother. The notion, however, that setting group standards will somehow teach classes of kids — elite or deprived — is false to the core. Having the confidence that one can teach almost any individual youngster to understand calculus or debate is valid. Escalante proved the point about calculus and I have seen it happen repeatedly in debate.

I realize that the educators, pedagogues, and politicians have elaborate theories about these issues. They claim expertise and spin their ideas at great cost in both money and generations lost to a failing school system.

Handschooling is a stunning new way individual youngsters can learn without being part of a crowd that identifies them as elite or deprived. A kid with a mobile can ride in a BMW or a bus, learning calculus or the rules of debate on his/her own. I feel certain that Jaime Escalante — as with all great teachers — found a way to teach each of his students as individually as handschooling does now virtually. May he rest in peace.

And of course the mobile is not human. It is a machine that teaches individuals the way a flight simulator or flashcards do. One advantage the mobile knowledge delivery does have over human teachers is that the online source is incapable of prejudging students because it does not know who they are: the elite/deprived factor is removed from the knowledge delivery mix.

Teaching is not crowd control


Posted on 9th March 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobiles | Schools we now have


Handschooling has a sweepingly simple solution to the woes of teaching: quit trying to teach classes, teach individuals. That way you can do it at the level of understanding your pupil has. You can engage her interest, adjusting as you sense how she is grasping the knowledge you are explaining. You can interact with her, challenge her, and lessen the pressure when she is struggling. How in the name of Socrates’ ghost can you do any of that standing in front of the very typical class shown in the illustration above?

The New York Times Magazine article where the illustration appears goes on page after page trying to solve this mystery:

But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans… A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems.

Somehow we have reached a point where teaching is synonymous with controlling a classroom full of students. Teaching is thought to be something you do to a crowd. Think about it: that is absurd. This view of teaching has has led to the development of educational theories for managing a class that are called techniques for teaching. We get the flavor from the NYT Magazine article:

. . . what makes a good teacher? There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. . . When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

Handschooling allows individual students to learn by letting them interact privately on their own device connected to the online global knowledge commons, perhaps spending part of a morning learning some optics from the OSA. No such opportunity existed when textbooks, grade curricula, and standards began sending education down the slippery slop of losing teaching in techniques of crowd control. Millions of natural, devoted teachers have bounced off of what resulted — to the enormous loss of several generations.

Handschooling will free teaching to resume. A teacher can interact with a student who is looking at the OSA page on The Eye. She can answer questions her student asks, and if she does not know the answer they can look elsewhere online to find it. Other students can join in the discourse. The ghost of Socrates will smile.

Learning from Lynda, great teaching online


Posted on 26th February 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobiles | Next

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These days “photoshopped” is used as a verb for changing an image. If you have wondered how images are manipulated in Photoshop, the Lynda.com video above will give you the general idea.

Lynda Weinman is a truly great teacher and is arguably the leading teacher of digital graphic techniques. Her Lynda.com masthead says: “Save your time. Save your money, Know all the features of your software.” I believe that slogan and am a subscriber.

Educators would not go wrong to use Lynda’s story and online teaching methods as excellent models and methodology. I attended a class by Lynda perhaps ten years ago when she was giving seminars for Apple. I have been to a lot of seminars, but Lynda’s stands out in my memory. She is a gifted teacher. About five years ago I had some discussions with Lynda at one of the Flashforward events she was co-sponsoring. She told me that what she liked and wanted to do was to teach. At that point she was deciding to spend her energy making Lynda.com a source for teaching. She has succeeded admirably in doing that.

I say all of this about Lynda because she has been down the paths educators are entering toward effective topic teaching online. She has organized a stable of excellent software teachers and provided the studio and technology for them to teach what they know on the training videos produced at Lynda.com. The video posted above is a prime example.

Just this week she is introducing the new lynda.com iPhone — a taking a big step into handschooling.

Lynda Weinman and her husband and business partner Bruce Heavin tell the story of their partnership and company in The lynda.com Story. They refer to their enterprise as the “Online Training Library.” Most of the videos in the Library are only available to paying subscribers. It will be very interesting to follow what Lynda.com does in the future about opening content. Already more than 5000 of her videos are free. My guess is Lynda will lead us with her usual intelligence and learner-centered passion into workable openness for the global knowledge commons.