Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Description of a Nine Week Program

In my bid to get a job teaching computers to middle school students, I have decided to plan my course in the open.  If you are a teacher, or a student, or someone who uses computers (which if you are reading this...duh!) and you feel you have something you would like considered for educational purposes, mail me.  If you want to give me feedback on the course I have designed, then by all means mail me.  If you want to sell me cheap prescription medications....take a hike!   I'm workin' here.
Guiding principals or Learning Intentions of this course:

1.)  To use the computer to sharpen critical thinking skills

2.)  To use the computer to produce work of equal or higher quality than that which can be produced using non-computer methods - Why use the computer when a paintbrush would be better.  Use the right tool for the job.  But then again, who is to say a paintbrush would be better*(see links below)

3.)   To seek out and discuss ethical issuses - I say discuss because issues have two sides.  Students have to feel no fear of speaking their mind.  Otherwise we cannot have an open discussion, and we cannot change the way people think.  I also say discuss because sometimes we cannot find the black and white answer; perhaps though we can at least agree on what shade of grey an issue is and agree to abide by a code of ethics accordingly.  For instance - is it wrong to take the picture of a teacher and edit it with imaging software, and then post it?  It may depend on the intent of the person editing and posting the photo.  But perhaps we can agree to avoid this situation by agreeing to ask permission before taking a teacher's photo, and explaining what we would like to do with it before starting.  

4.)  To develop competency in using a variety of applications - art, science and math.  Music skills, and of course literacy skills.  After all it is a course on computer skills.  James McConville introduced me years ago to the term "digital pencil."  I think of the computer as the next tool in a student's creative toolbox.

I would like to advocate for free web based applications, and open source applications.  This is a different approach from the norm.  They are free applications, (free in the sense that you can use them for personal or educational use without paying), however there are drawbacks.  They are not under district control, they could be discontinued for student use, terms of service could change, there are concerns about technical support being available.  However I feel that web based apps and open source software offer two distinct advantages:

a) They are free
b) Lots of people are using them, and when students leave our doors, they will likely use some of these types of applications.  Let's teach their proper use while we have their attention.

Next: The Lessons



Diane P said...

Some people take it for granted that all middle school students are online all the time -not true.
My goals for my middle school students this year is for them to learn to:connect, collaborate, & create in a completely safe manner.
I don't try to overwhelm them with fears but you have to talk to them about online safety before you turn them loose.
Also think of the hierarchy of skills you need them to know.
You will be teaching writing & editing skills because they need to understand their online presence will mean to their future readers.
some students will gobble up information and some will be hesitant-depending on their previous experience. Your projects should be open ended so that the students can build their skills without being overwhelmed-but yet give a challenge to the other students.
If you want to see our website or further advice, please contact me.

Louise Maine said...

I like what you have so far particularly #2. There is a lot to consider on what should be taught. Students can learn the ins and outs of a program, but do they understand the big things? Appropriate use, ethics, which applications would be useful for a particular task are very important. Unfortunately most have not been taught the big lessons. I have an additional suggestion: In regards to literacy, how about teaching an appropriate way to comment or discuss? Learning to discuss positives, a critique, and an additional question to keep the discussion going and friendly is a skill not many students know.

James Gill said...

With regards to Louise Maine's comment: I will have to teach how to post and respond to posts in a socially responsible way. Very good point, Louise. I also appreciate Diane P's comment on literacy skills. I would need to talk with classroom teachers to make sure I am echoing their classroom literacy practices, and using their teaching vocabulary. Thank you for your comments.

Louise Maine said...

An additional thought: I spent a great deal of time at the beginning of the year teaching how to evaluate a site. David Warlick's Raw Materials for the mind is a great resource for this. I can give more information if you need. You could illustrate it using some great websites referenced in his work. Then, students could play for 15 minutes searching something they like that would teach them something new. They could evaluate that site and perhaps learn how to blog about it? Then comment on each others? Just a thought.

I encounter a wide range of ability in being able to navigate through pages and apps. I really think it is who has spent more time playing. The more you work with apps, the more fearless you are because you can figure things out. Hope that makes sense. I know that is true for me.

I would love to see what you come up with as we are taking 9th graders through a two hour intro which is not enough. It focuses on apps just on our laptops but the programs should not be the focus, the literacy, ethics, etc. should be. Is that a correct view to be thinking?

James Gill said...

Hi Diane,
Please send me more information on David Warlick's Raw Materials. It sounds interesting. As to your introduction to Grade 9's, I am not sure I am an authority, as I have only taught grades k-5 in computers. However, in my school district's professional development program, there is a big movement towards starting with the big picture, or learning intentions. I see teens and young adults using technology to accomplish a goal; to communicate or share faster, or to reach a broader audience than was ever before available. What I have heard teachers and parents talk about was their concerns about the ethical use of technology and safety. So I begin my talk with young people as to why and where they can incorporate their technology to accomplish a task. I then address ethics and safety right away because I want these to be the guiding principals that help them make choices no matter what application they use. There will always be a new application to use, but I want them to keep in mind "how will my actions affect others?" no matter what task they are trying to accomplish.

Louise Maine said...

The link to David Warlick's book is here.

It covers a lot of material that is useful. It is available as a download through LuLu.

My last comment was to recommend analyzing sites for validity to determine if they are useful as most students believe all the sites they read without looking at obvious signs that they could not be valid (buttons to buy irrelevant items), etc.

Being able to use technology ethically and safely is important today as students go into technology with a different frame of mind than those of us who are older.

Shawn Brandt said...

James, I like where you are going with this class. Too many schools are taking the "easy" way out... they want to protect students, but they do it by blocking access. You are absolutely right... let's teach them how to use these tools with safe and ethical responsibility.

I have a question for you. Safety and liability issues are always a big concern for school districts. What are you doing (or being required to do) to give your students web 2.0 accounts? Is parent permission required? Is this covered in your AUP? Supported by principal, school board, parents?

Okay, that was more than one question, but I am interested in your thoughts.

James Gill said...

Thank you Shawn for your supportive comments. I am not sure what an AUP is, so if you could clarify that I would be happy to respond. As to what we are doing to promote safety and social responsibilty with web 2.0 students, using SharePoint websites (not intending to be an ad for Microsoft here), all student edits are automatically "tagged" with their name and trackable as it is something our district is able to track and control. Through SharePoint websites students are able to create discussion, basic websites,and many other Web 2.0 activities with their name automatically tagged to it. Thus, accountability is built into the machine to a great degree. However this does not take the place of the ethical discussions and lessons that come out of these contemporary topics. And yes, parent permission is required by any kid in my school before they set foot on the internet. They all sign letters of consent (parents). I am doing a 'net night for the PAC (PTA in the USA), and both my principal and zone superintendent (big wig and bigger wig) are kept informed of my activities and philosophies (because I corner them periodically), and support me. Everyone wants their kids on the 'net, but not everyone yet knows how to get them on safely, or agrees on the best method. Still, man do I love my job. I would welcome any further questions or comments, Shawn.