Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Face-to-Face Learning (Free Choice Article)

Hello Class,

I read the article "Point/Counter: Should We Let Students Opt Out of Face-to-Face Education?" by Don W. Brown and Ralph Maltese. In this a arguments for and against the value of face-to-face education is made. Face-to-face education being the traditional form of education where students and teachers together in person; this is contrasted with purely online education where student and teacher meet over the Internet. The first author, Don Brown, argues that a purely online education is sufficient and face-to-face education is unnecessary. Brown continues stating no teacher can provide the expert information the Internet can provide and social growth occurs online, just as it does the traditional face-to-face situation. The second author, Ralph Maltese takes a balanced view. He acknowledges online learning is a valuable resource, but does replace the nuance of face-to-face communication and learning experience of working with other students in person.

I agree wholeheartedly Mr. Maltese and I am little surprised by Mr. Brown's narrow-vision of K-12 education. Online learning and other recent technological additions to the traditional classroom are certainly valuable; I would never give them back or turn them away.  Online learning is limited in its social interaction and humans will likely never reach a point in our social development where face-to-face interaction and collaboration is obsolete. Working with other humans in-person is a uniquely engaging and challenging in ways that online interaction cannot with our technology replicate. Going to traditional school and meeting with, working with, dealing with others even outside of the classroom curriculum is valuable social education that cannot be completely replicated online. While some social interaction occurs online, it is a stale version of face-to-face communication  Online learning provides education together with face-to-face education is by far better than any of two individually. Why not use the strengths of both.

Thanks for reading,


To Grade or Not to Grade..

Hi Class,

In the article "Grading: not how, but why" by Alfie Kohn, the author investigates the supposed purposes of grading, their desired outcomes and their often unforeseen negative results on student engagement and learning. Mr. Kohn states that traditionally grades served three main purposes for educators: to sort students via performance, to motivate students to work hard and perhaps learn and to provide the student meaningful feedback on their learning. However, Kohn assures assessing grades to none of these things well and often present side-effects that are detrimental to learning, high-level thinking, creativity and engagement. Moreover, Kohn argues these negative side outweigh the traditionally held usefulness of grading. Importantly, Kohn stresses the educator should consider what they are trying achieve through grading and whether it is is necessary to facilitate learning, the ultimate purpose of education.

I find Kohn's argument philosophically engaging and well-intentioned, but idealistic and practical to apply to public schools and our societal organization. Student achievement is by nature distinctly individual; it is difficult force the unique achievement of each student into one-size-fits-all categories. Moreover, I agree grades receiving a poor grade can be disheartening and striving to achieve good grades be distracting and overwhelming. However, some sort of assessment of students is necessary, not just for the student but for the educator, as well. Some sort of continuity is necessary to compare the abilities, ambition and success of student education. Entry into university and professional schools is dependent on grades and sorting of students.

However, I do agree that letter grades alone are extremely limited in the amount of information they provide about student achievement. Student grades should always be used in conjunction is written comments elaborate on the assessment of student achievement. Moreover, the use of curved grades and normalized grade distributions are patented ridiculous. All students should able to reach an A.

Thanks for Reading,


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Common Core

Hello Class,

This week's blog prompt is about common core standards. Common core standards are  national level learning standards that will soon be implemented in most states across the country. These standards will be implemented in grades K-12 in most all major subjects: math, English, social science and science. Before this common core initiative, learning standards were set independently by each state. In some cases, states copied the standards of other states; however, there was no mandate to do so. Each state could by choice devise learning standard different for all other states. 

We asked to view one of three videos regarding common core standards for elementary, middle or high school. Here are the corresponding links to the videos: 
Elementary School CCS: http://youtu.be/1IPxt794-yU

Middle School CCS: http://youtu.be/SC4OG11zOC8
High School CCS: http://youtu.be/Ym-VHwbpAQM

My wife (a 3rd grade teacher) and I watched all three videos and were impressed. First, establishing nation-wide learning standards is a good idea. The essentials for students to know does not really vary from state to state; math, science and English, among other subjects, remain the same regardless what state  a students live in. The only thing that many vary between states that I can think of is state history, of course this varies state to state. Moreover, the common core standards emphasize learning based on evidence rather than students taking the information presented by the teacher as gospel. The strategy empowers students to learn how retrieve information and how to judge its reliability, rather than waiting for facts to be presented to them. Moreover, students learn to judge, in most cases, how reliable this information is and whether it will support any conclusions. 

Additionally, common core will emphasize quality over quantity. Student learning will focus on doing a few core concepts well and dropping some material traditionally covered in order to make this possible. At first, this may seem like a mistake. Students will not be exposed to as varied many concepts, so therefore will learn less. This is true to some respect; however, common core standards emphasize strategies than enable students to gather, judge and learn information even when they are not with the teacher. In limited time of grade school it really is not possible to learn everything well, but it possible to teach something well and give students the ability to learn more in the future. This makes sense. Students build a strong foundation on which all further learning beyond public school will rest firmly. Today's face-paced technological society requires lifetime learning. Of course, lifetime learning does not upon high school graduation. Common core will give student the power to continue a lifetime of learning.

I reviewed the California’s Common Core Content Standards for English Language Arts &
Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects at the California Department of Education at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cc/. As described above, these standards for science demand students learn to base their learning based upon evidence. This is precisely the right perspective for science learning. Every scientific conclusion, all of science, is based upon evidence. Without strong supporting evidence no conclusion in science can be made. All science rests upon the foundation of evidence. This is clearly the right way to teach science.

It seems most of the teachers in the three videos were hesitant to can their methods for the latest flavor of the week learning tactic. However, it appears the teachers once comfortable with the new common core standards really felt they were an improvement. I am all for these changes and so is my wife, a teacher of 10 years.

Interesting stuff,


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Computational Thinking

Hello All,

I read article 1, "Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for Everyone" by Barr, Davis and Conery. This article dealt how to best define the idea of computational thinking so that curricula utilizes its concept can be developed for the K-12 setting. 

Computational thinking relies on problem solving for complex issues where solution to the problem may be not readily clear, is often open-ended and not quickly answered by the student. The students must come to a solution to a problem by use of creativity and realization of the limits of the tools at their disposal to solve their problem. Student must first break down the problem into smaller parts and then decide how to solve these smaller parts in sequence that solve the larger problem. In solving these smaller bits of the larger problem, student must decide how to use the tools at their disposal to best solve their problem, likely deciding which ways would be most effective and perhaps, let's face it, easiest and quickest, while still accomplishing their set goal. According to the computational learning theory, computers and other electronic tools are essential this problem solving, though I believe computational learning techniques have been used to most-effectively solve large problems for millennia, regardless of the invention of computers. Computers now tremendously expand our toolbox of tools available to solve problems. 

It is an excellent idea to use computational thinking to facilitate learning as its concepts closely follow how work is done in the real world. The scenario above closely follows how a problem would be tackled from a very logical, engineering perspective. For example, this is just how we would solve problems at the civil engineering career I held for eight years. We would break our problems down into smaller pieces and come up with a way to solve these smaller pieces in order to solve the larger problem  with the tools at our disposal. 

Computational thinking appears to be a very powerful concept, as it encourages creativity and autonomy to find a solution to a problem that does not at first appear to have a obvious solution. This concept can allow students to build confidence in their ability to solve difficult problems on without  following explicit directions. Solving difficult problems without obvious solution by using the tools available to us is something we do in our adult lives all of the time. All to often, schooling has involved working on things that were to be only solved in the explicit way the teacher demands, such as solving an algebra problem in one way and only that way. This old algorithm describes how someone may work at a low-wage job, such as in a fast food restaurant where burritos and made one way and only that way. Higher-wage careers demand problem solving without explicit directions. Supervisors depend on those under them to solve problems without having to have their hands held. Computation learning follows how higher-wage careers work. I am very supportive of teaching in a way that uses computational learning. Awesome stuff!

Thanks for reading,


Barrl, D., Harrision, J. and Conery, L. (2011, March/April). Computaional Thinking: a Digital Age Skill for Everyone, 38 (1)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Digital Libraries

Hello Group F,

The idea of a digital library is a great. It means any book could be accessed where Internet connections are available. This is a monumental step forward from having to search out and physically travel to a library to find a particular book.

If students all had access to a Kindle or other such device, this could be a powerful tool for student learning. Students could research a report they were doing in class rather than taking a trip to the library. Moreover, the size of the school library would have to increase in size bigger than the whole school campus in order to hold a mere fraction of the books available on the Internet. The number of digitized books are only bound to increase.

I have never used a Kindle, but I hear they are easy to read and generally lighter than many large books. This would all be nice for students. It lightens up their already too full backpacks.

Moreover, it would be nice if usual word in the text of the book could be linked to a dictionary, so the word's meaning could be conveniently  looked up. Hauling out a dictionary in the middle of reading is always a pain.

The article states that Kindle are only set up to deal with linear formats, read from the top to the bottom. This limits the current Kindle models from being able to handle all of the exciting features of e-books. However, newer models of Kindle-type devices may be able to handle the multi-media of e-books.

Kindles apparently are capable to read the text of many books aloud. This could be a great feature for visually impaired and the average student alike. It would be helpful for many students to be able to hear a line of text with a new word in it to hear how it is pronounced. Pronunciation can be challenging with a new word. Moreover, this read-aloud feature could be helpful if the student want to review something they have already read. However, students need to do the reading themselves most of the time and not rely on the read-aloud feature. I am not sure how this feature could be limited in a usable way, however.

Kindles sounds cool, can't wait.

Thanks for reading,


Sorry for the Sunday post.

Bull, G. and Sites, M. (2009, August). Digital Libraries: Shifting the Landscape .Learning and Leading with Technology,37 (1)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Virtual Interactive Field Trips

Hi Group F and Class,

I read "The beginner's guide to interactive virtual field trips" by Jan Zanetis (Zanetis, 2010).  As you may guessed from the article's title, this article is about the exciting teaching opportunity offered by interactive virtual field trips. I idea with a virtual interactive field trip is the whole class as a group using specialized video conferencing equipment can interact with a individual at a far away location. For instance, a class here in North San Diego County could interact, discuss and ask questions with a paleontologist at the Cleveland Natural History Museum, while she leads a tour of the museum via group video conferencing equipment. Another tour may perhaps visit a castle in Scotland with a local historian; the options are nearly endless, as long a the technology is available on both ends. This technology offers students the chance to view a facility and speak an expert at a far-flung location that could never be visited  as a class, due to the long distance.

This technology has benefits over a more-traditional field trip. First, the cost could be significantly reduced, though the museum or other facility may likely charge a fee. Nevertheless, if group video conferencing is available within the school district, the cost could be much lower than transporting the whole class there. Second, the class could take the interactive virtual tour in only an hour or so and be back in the classroom ready to have a reflective assignment based on the virtual field trip or move on to another topic, altogether. Traditional field trips, typically occupy the whole day and otherwise valuable teaching time may be lost during transportation times, etc. A virtual tour could be relatively quick. Finally, and likely most-importantly, the class could visit a far off location anywhere on earth, perhaps even outer space, as long as each location has the right technology. A class in San Diego could never take a field trip to a research station in Antarctica and meet with a top atmospheric scientist, but this could be possible with through an interactive virtual tour using group video conferencing equipment.

The Zanetis 2010 article gives links to 16 award-winning interactive virtual tour sites. I checked out a few of them, these being:
The Cleveland Institute of Music at www.cim.edu/dl/index.php,
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate at www.mountvernon.org/learn/index.cfm
The Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia at www.reefhq.com.au 
and The National WWII Museum at www.nationalww2museum.org

I was not able to interact with anyone during my short internet visit, as these things of course would need to be organized ahead to time; however, the information these sites offer looked promising. You should check them out yourselves. Below are some screen prints I took of Mount Vernon, Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia and The National WWII Museum websites, respectively.

This interactive virtual tour capability cannot truly replace the excitement of a traditional, in-situ field trip; nevertheless, it can open a wide world experiences to the classroom that could never realistically be reached otherwise, given the distances involved. This interactive virtual tour technology would likely be a fun, engaging and very education opportunity for a classroom. I can't wait to try it!

Pretty Cool,

Ryan Fitch

Zanetis, J. (2010, March/April). The beginner's guide to interactive virtual field trips.Learning and Leading with Technology,37 (6)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Blogging Teacher

Hello class,

Looks like I am late here with my blog regarding teachers blogging...nevertheless, here it is.

Blogging is a useful tool for educators, especially those actively teaching. A blog can be used to provide up-to-date information on the current activities of the class. Here, projects, assignments and study topics can be shown to the blog viewer. Parents, students, even grandparents, could view the blog and see what activities the class is undertaking, how the class, as a whole, did on these activities and what activities are coming soon. I think a blog is a great way to keep the parents, and other concerned family members, involved in class activities. Moreover, parents could leave comments on past activities and those to come. This could be a way to ensure parents have their say in the on-goings of the class.

However, I am not really answering the question proposed by the Maxlow/Nielsen blog. They ask, "Is blogging worth the risk?" This question has an obvious answer, NO. If blogging presents a risk to the students, their families, the teacher or the school, district, etc., then blogging should not be done. This does not mean blogging should be done, it just means the blogging must not be risky.

Care should be taken by the blogging teacher to avoid risk. Personal information of individual students should never be released on the blog site. Information which should not be included in the blog would include, such things as student names, individual student grades or nay other personal information. However, information on the whole class, not specifically about any one student, is valid blogging material. For instance, an example of information that could be used in the blog is overall class average on a particular assignment. Here, no individual student information is provided, only the results of the whole class. Moreover, use of student images should be used with caution. A blogging teacher should get permission from the student and their parents before their images are used on the blog.

It seems to me that Lisa Nielsen, the author of the blog who said blogging is not worth the risk, took too many risks in her blog and those risks tainted her opinion of teacher blog use. Her school and fellow teachers raised warning flags about her blog and she became obstinate and went ahead anyway. If her school and fellow teachers felt she was doing the wrong thing with her blog, she should have first listened, spoke to the concerned parents, teachers and administrators and adjusted accordingly before going ahead with the blog. I think a teacher's blog should be non-controversial, if it is something is wrong.

See you on Tuesday,

Ryan Fitch