Friday, March 20, 2009

Ouch! I'm having visual cortex growing pains!

Thanks to Carol Soma for her presentation at the Library Technology Conference yesterday. Carol spoke about how the brains of our younger generations are developing differently, in large part due to the amount of multimedia they are exposed to. Some interesting factoids that came out of her presentation:

  • The visual cortex in brains today are 20% than they were 20 years ago

  • Kids today are attracted to certain bright colors while ignoring black and white

  • A study of young kids watching Sesame Street found that those who played while watching retained as much information as those who only watched

  • Studies show that people master skills that they spend 10,000 hours practicing.

  • Kids spend 10,000 hours playing video games, using cellphones, watching tv

  • Less than 5,000 hours reading

These are fascinating facts. What do they mean for education? We can discuss the implications of our changing brains. There is no question that there are benefits as well as detriments to these adaptations. But it is equally important for us to discuss how our teaching must change to address these changes.

If kids remember things better when they are visually presented, how can we present more information in this way?

If kids respond better to certain colors, how can we present information in ways that are more attractive to them?

How can we use technology to encourage more reading? Deeper reading?

What is the appropriate level of multitasking among our students to allow for their style of learning while still promoting deeper reflection?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Great Content Debate

There has been a really interesting debate raging about 21st Century Skills and content in education. It seems that many in education think 21st Century Skills is counter to learning content. You can read about their views here:

It is an interesting debate. Both sides make good points, but I find myself stuck in the middle. Why is teaching content counter to the goals of teaching 21st century skills? I for one can not question the need to learn deeply about a topic in order to have relevant arguments. I believe one must understand their topic in order to speak, write, or present on it. But where I believe 21st Century Skills is more than just a fad is in the way in which it shifts our understanding of how we access that content, process that content, and communicate our learning about that content.

There is no denying that content is more readily available today than ever before. However, that content is hiding amid millions of webpages, ads, and other distractions. If we don't teach our students how to effectively sift through the morass of information that bogs so many of us down, we will instead limit our students to either ignore the hordes of valuable information online or give equal value to all the content online. Handing kids a textbook and asking them to ignore the topical, thoughtful information that is available 24/7 is like teaching kids how to write essays on slate boards. It doesn't prepare them for the world they are already participating in.

The challenge we have as teachers is we are being asked to use tools that are essential to our students future, yet somewhat foreign to many of us. In addition, we are struggling to find the time to explore these tools to create meaningful opportunities for our students to learn how to use them. At the same time, we are feeling a great deal of pressure to get up to speed quickly. We don't want to feel responsible for ill-preparing our students.

One thing is for sure, content alone will not prepare our students for a world in which technology is changing the way we access information, connect with others socially and professionally, and organize our lives. On the other hand, technology skills alone will not prepare our students to make deep connections, solve meaningful problems, or communicate in significant ways.

We need both.

Photo Credit:

Blog Tour for Literacy

Check out Share a Story - Shape a Future! It's a week long blog tour about issues connected to literacy. Each day centers around a theme. The themes include:

Raising Readers

Selecting Reading Material

Reading Aloud

Visiting the Library

Technology and Reading

What a great idea! Each day a group of bloggers will talk about one of these themes. You can easily link to all the blogs from this one blog:


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Educational Skydiving

You are more likely to behave yourself into new ways of thinking than thinking yourself into new ways of behaving.   -Michael Fullan

Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.  -Kobi Yamada

Thanks to my Personal Learning Network for sharing these quotes with me. I always learn so much from the people I work with.

As I read these quotes and discussed them with colleagues, I began thinking about how quickly things are changing around us. Our model of careful and thoughtful deliberation before making decisions is not practical anymore. We need to change first and consider the implications as we go.

Consider the first quote. We spend so much time TALKING about what technology means for education, but little time DOING the things that create actual change. Maybe it is time for us to start doing and see what happens. If we start using the technology, our thinking will follow. We will find the connections to curriculum and education. This is scary, but it works. When I started as a teacher, I didn't know about technology. I just started trying things. Slowly but surely, I learned how to use the tools, learned how they impacted my students, and learned why they are so essential.

This is hard for me. I am a ponderer, a thinker. I visit items many times before buying them. I consider ideas from many sides before forming an opinion. But sometimes, jumping in is the better road. Consider the second quote. How much more can we accomplish, how much sooner can we reach our goal, how much more can we learn from the mistakes we will undoubtedly make, if we are willing to leap first and figure out where and how we will land as we go.

Photo from:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Btw, W@ Do U Think @ 21st Century Literacy?

I recently read "Writing in the 21st Century: A report from the National Council of Teachers of English"

by NCTE Past President, Kathleen Blake Yancey. In it Yancey does a great job of looking at writing historically and framing how new forms of writing like email, text, Twitter, blogging, etc... have a place in education. She calls for educators to do three things:

Developing new models of writing

Designing a new curriculum supporting those models

Creating models for teaching that curriculum

This is a great challenge for us as educators. If we view writing as a powerful form of communication, we must begin to accept powerful tools as viable ways to write. Blogs, wikis, Twitter, and others allow our students to reach greater audiences, work collaboratively, and utilize multimedia effectively as part of written communication. We must explore these opportunities to maximize the potential of our students as writers. We must be open to changing formats of writing as well. The message must be clear for the reader to understand it, but we must make sure that our goal is to help students express their ideas clearly. How we look at conventions may need to change in order to accept this. I invite you to read Yancey's Report as well as Angela Gunn's article about it. I also invite you to comment here to participate in a continuing discussion about this issue.