Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Kinect?

Earlier this week I attended a presentation by the Colorado Department of Education supporting the transition to the new Colorado Academic Standards. The presenters outlined working toward "deep change" in education as we gradually achieve transformation, changing teaching and learning. The transformation will require new ways of thinking and acting. I was particularly interested in the definition given for mastery. To truly achieve mastery, students must be able to apply and transfer knowledge to new and different situations. Those are lofty and worthwhile goals for the state and I hope to teach long enough to see that transformation take place for our children. In the meantime I am exploring new ways for young children, in the first and second grade, to build knowledge and demonstrate mastery. One extremely engaging tool I am trying is Xbox 360 Kinect. At first glance it may appear that using the system in a classroom is simply playing games, but if you observe young children closely when playing, it becomes quickly apparent that the games often require children to think critically and use problem solving skills. Gaining mastery over their motor skills while making decisions and following directions is a complicated task for six and seven year olds. The games provide many excellent situations for the application and transfer of knowledge. Check out the lesson ideas at Kinect in Education for ideas and watch for many more activities to be posted soon. Simply learning and feeding back information will not be enough in the years ahead. Students will need to make connections and demonstrate the ability to apply what they learn in the real world. Little kids can venture into virtual worlds easily through the use of Kinect games providing delightful and safe environments to try out their learning and growing thinking skills. Even better, the games allow the children to experience collaboration as they work together to play the games and achieve success. Our world is changing at a rapid pace and keeping up with that change in a classroom is challenging. Kinect is an affordable and easily used tool to transform the learning experiences of children. Why Kinect? Why not?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How time changes everything...

Imagine being a teacher sitting at a table with five other passionate educators from around the globe that you have just met, some of whom do not speak English, and being given the task of developing a learning project for students about the global issue of water. That is an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge building at its best and exactly the situation I found myself in over the past week.
Two years ago I began this blog to reflect on the use of changing technology in the classroom. I was "sorting it all out" and looking for direction. Today as I reflect on the experiences of attending the Microsoft Partners In Learning Global Forum in Washington, DC, I realize that I have moved in a new direction entirely. Technology has found its place in my teaching, not as the focus and purpose for lessons, but as the tool set that enables learning not otherwise available to my students. My new focus is the need to provide my students with rich opportunities to build knowledge from student directed, globally connected, meaningful learning activities. Without technology, that would be nearly impossible, but at the center of such learning there will always be people.
Living in a rural area far from a big city, there are few chances for my students to meet face to face with people from other regions of the globe. Although they will likely never meet the educators I planned with last week, they will definitely meet their students online as they share learning that I cannot alone provide. I found myself in situations this week that opened my eyes to the power of allowing students to build knowledge from experiences and reflection rather than lecture and feedback of facts.
Yesterday I had a chance to reflect on the powerful information I had gathered in eventful days at the forum. I had a few hours to fill before my flight and could have gone to Arlington Cemetery to observe the Veteran's Day Ceremony, but instead I chose to walk across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. It was in that museum that all the pieces began to fall into place for me. As I listened to the peaceful flute
music playing in the exhibits and read the beautiful thought provoking quotes in the displays I suddenly found meaning in all that was pounding in my head.
The topic of water was intensely important to all of the people I was working with. We revealed vast differences, not in the way water is used by each of us in our regions of the earth, but in how it is obtained. The teachers from Brazil told of water from the Amazon River and an abundance of rain. In Taiwan we learned of rainwater collection. Our friend from Saudi Arabia told of great factories desalinating water from the sea as there are no rivers and little rain. In India we learned of a shortage of freshwater for drinking. I, of course, told of water from our river that we often take for granted. We heard about the growing concern for water shortages that may lead to war as a lack of clean water becomes life threatening.
It was on the flight home that I began to make sense of all that I heard and learned from my new friends. I was looking out the window at the darkness and lights dotting the land of my country below when I recalled the daytime visions from my flight to the forum days earlier. It had been one of those beautifully clear days with few clouds. For several hours I flew over land that looked like a patchwork quilt. Each block of the quilt belongs to someone. I thought of the land so long ago that was inhabited by our native people. Their words of honor, respect, and gratitude to the earth came back to me. It is my sense that long ago they did not think of owning the land, but rather considered themselves to be part of nature and understood their place in the great balance that kept them alive, providing for their needs as they shared with all living creatures. The earth today is visibly divided. Every inch belongs to someone. We have claimed our places and built our fences to protect what belongs to us. Our needs are no longer met by nature around us, but by goods and services that are brought to us from far away places. Rather than sharing the responsibility and recognizing the needs of all, it would seem to me that we are more concerned with making sure that we protect our property and that we get what we need from others. We have lost the reality of being part of nature and protecting the delicate balance. We have become so wrapped up in maintaining our fences that we lose sight of our responsibility to all the people and creatures of this great planet. Meeting them in person, however, made me realize that we all have the same hopes and dreams. I made friends that I am certain I will have for the rest of my life. I am missing them today. I listened to teachers from Europe tell of change in their nations as people from other regions are immigrating to make new homes in their countries. They talked of losing the sense of nation that once existed as they become more diverse in populations. We can all be friends and should be. We can share the land and resources once again.
Time has changed the earth, time has changed my understanding and teaching, and time will hopefully change our world for the better as we become a global nation of friends.
I have twenty small children in my classroom that deserve a chance to learn in the way I did this week. I could go back to class and simply tell them what I learned, but few would actually internalize and find meaning in that. I will instead use technology to connect them to children in faraway places so that they might also find friendship, respect, and understanding. I will pose questions to them and allow them time to find their own answers and build knowledge that will undoubtedly stick with them for life. I am so excited to begin the project planned with my new friends from around the world and I can't wait to share that excitement with my kids! We will truly become partners in learning!