Wednesday, December 31, 2008

hundred dollar computer lab

A Screen Shot of Puppy Linux

At first, glance, however, the idea of creating a computer lab seems insane. It seems like it would involve a ton of fundraising and grant-writing and gaining district approval. However, the reality is that teachers can create an inexpensive computer lab on a shoe string budget. Here's why:

It's not hard to find donated computers. In fact, there is a grant teachers occasionally write their own that is available at Computers for Learning. The reality is that most teachers know twenty to thirty people who have old computers . . . or at least who could spread the news. Schools can be sketchy about accepting donations. However, it's possible to avoid the donation (and tax write-off) if that happens. My point is that this part is often the easiest.  

So, with all these old computers, there will probably be a few basic necessecities. Teachers can easily spend about fifty bucks on surge protectors and another fifty to a hundred dollars on buying switches for internet. In most districts, blue chords will be free. Thus, an entire computer lab will cost close to a hundred dollars. New teachers can probably write a Wells Fargo grant and get the entire thing covered.  

I know, I know, it sounds like an abysmal failure. A bunch of computers will be running on Windows 98. But there's an axiom I've learned: Linux covers a multitude of sins. Okay, maybe not sins, but certainly huge computer failures. If you don't believe me, test it out on an old computer. Download Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux (which most Linux people now call DSL). Or, if you're computer is less than five years old, try out Ubuntu. Everything is free, so there are no site liscenes, no registration forms and no strings attached.  

In terms of office, the Open Office program works really well. It's also easy to load a linux version of CMAPS for basic concept maps and the PhotoGimp program allows students to do very basic picture editing. However, in using old computers, I'm more concerned with speed and functionality. The Linux developers have done a phenomenal job in maximizing the RAM so that tasks run smoothly.  

In our class, we use many of the Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, Google Docs, collective concept mapping, etc.) that are all internet-based. Students are always surprised by how quickly Firefox runs on Linux. As long as it's a PC, there is an easy-to-install Flash player, which will enable students to use most sites.  

Here's a simple to-do list for this projec:
  • Get permission to get computers donated
  • Guarantee that I can get tables - my seating chart is basically a big circle where I can see all computers at all times
  • Buy switches (fortunately I already have those cute little boxes, but they are selling for next to nothing on Craigs List and eBay)
  • Get surge protectors (again, I have these already from my current class set-up)
  • Start acquiring old computers
  • Test out different versions of Linux to see which one I like best
  • Set up computers at the tables
  • Load my favorite Linx distro using a CD (or for some older computers a floppy disk)
  • Load the Flash player on each computer (most Linux Distros don't have it pre-loaded)

I'll be posting video tutorials for creating a FreeLab within the next few weeks. 

Friday, September 26, 2008


What are the dangers in using computers for reading and writing?

Saturday, April 26, 2008


These are my thoughts on the connection between educational theory and superheroes. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch, but it's how I see the world.

seating chart with technology

People often ask how they should configure a classroom if they have computers. If they are laptops, the answers are a little easier. This is a brief exploration into how a teacher can configure the seating chart.

Friday, April 25, 2008


My reflections from a childhood cartoon.

Bike Ride

Thoughts on what I see when I ride a bike.


My thoughts on how schools change.

Teeth Cleaning

I relate my experiences in the dentist to school climate.

Belief Walk

This is a strategy that has worked well for me in my social studies class. It is a blend of visual, spatial and kinesthetic.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bloom's Taxonomy: Affective Theory

Surprisingly, the educational community gives little emphasis on the two other areas of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Even with the recent scientific knowledge about the amygdale, emotional intelligence and intuitive knowledge, Bloom’s Affective theory is almost entirely neglected. Similarly, his research on the psychomotor realm of learning remains largely ignored by the academic community.
Perhaps this is because other theorists have built upon Bloom’s work. (Which, in all honesty, was led by an entire team of researchers.) Bloom’s protégé R.H. Dave has gained notoriety for his contribution to psychomotor behavioral objectives.

Affective Domain

Receiving– A student will be able to receive a stimulus. On an emotional scale, this means that a student must be wiling to learn and to pay attention. On a more observable scale, this means that a student should be paying attention, listening and on-task. At this stage, a student is attentive, but not necessarily actively engaged. Example: A student sits passively in a classroom

Responding – At this point, a student will be actively engaged, but not necessarily internalizing any information. The student is not only willing to engage (receiving) but is actually engaging in the information. Here the student feels enough involved in the classroom community that he or she feels safe sharing information. Example: A student raises his hand in a class discussion

Valuing – The student believes that the subject and the people are important. Rather than merely being a participant, the student desires to be there and feels a sense of importance and meaning in what is being accomplished. A student at this stage does not feel outside pressure to comply, but an internal compulsion to participate and contribute. Example: A student wants to be in class and volunteers to lead a group.

Organizing – Here is when a student attempts to fit the idea, class or activity into a greater philosophical framework. There is a notion of compromise and harmony involved. It is not unlike Bloom’s notion of synthesis. This is also where a student clarifies values into priorities. Example: A student sees connection between life and the class. The student leads a petition because of skills learned in a government class.

Internalizing – The learning, ideas or community has become a part of the student. This is also where a student has the greatest sense of self-control and a strongest sense of a personal philosophy that guides him or her. Example: The learning is now a part of the student’s core values. A student creates a life philosophy based on what he or she knows.

This has been presented as a hierarchy, but the reality is that it is more like a continuum. Students fall back and forth between the two rather than climb to the top. For example, a new situation might cause a student to fall back to receiving. A student might be in valuing until trust has been broken and it goes back to responding or receiving.

Bloom's Taxonomy: Psychomotor


For this one, we’ll use an example of learning how to drive a car. A rough definition of pyschomotor would be the knowledge requried to do a task. It is not far off of the notion of kinesthetic learning.

It takes years of cruising to have the speed and finesse of this young whipper snapper!

Imitation – Seeing an activity and repeating what is seenObservable: Person can see it and do it
Example: Practices driving the car and drives at a slow pace in parking lots.

Manipulation – Practicing it becomes more habitual Observable: Should be able to step away from it for awhile without seeing it demonstrated again. Example: Practices driving the car in parking lots and out in neighborhoods. By now, the driver doesn’t have all skills, but the early act of driving is now habitual.

Precision – Accurately able to do a skill, seems “easy” and normalObservable: Should be doing it without looking too upsetExample: Almost effortlessly, the driver can maneuver around the road. However, there is still some tension and still some contexts where the driver is a novice.

Articulation – Able to do skill and modify it easily in order to change results Observable: Makes slight changes without losing sight of the skillExample: The driver can use all the skills and adjust to new contexts. The driver can handle the rain, the snow and the crazy Phoenix dust storms.

Naturalization – Able to do it thoughtlessly Observable: It is easy and effortless. For example, an athlete might just seem “in the zone.” Example: Someone who has been driving twenty years and knows all terrains

Bloom's Taxonomy: Criticisms

Criticisms of Bloom's Taxonomy
Educational theorists have criticized Bloom’s Taxonomy on a few grounds.
1. Learning is not sequential – Bloom’s Hierarchy seems too artificially constructed. It is a very linear, straightforward view of how humans comprehend information. Although each concept or classification has its place, researchers are beginning to see the mind as more of a web. A person might skip from knowledge to application then analyze the application, come to a conclusion (evaluation) and then re-analyze the conclusion all working toward a greater synthesis of information. Constructivist teaching has suggested that teachers need to spread higher-order thinking skills throughout a task rather than begin with the imparting of knowledge.
2. It is incomplete – Bloom concentrated his efforts on learning, yet there is little about motivation or about classroom management.
3. It is too precise – Classifying and separating learning into three spheres and nice hierarchies is a very modern, scientific view of learning. Yet, a postmodern critique would attempt to deconstruct this idea. For one, they would suggest that brain science is still in its earliest formation and that we do not entirely understand the mystery of the mind. In addition, postmodernists would suggest that many of the terms are simply artificial constructs used as ideology to conceal the messy side of learning.
4. It is individualistic – Unlike the Social Learning Theory, Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses heavily on how an individual learns. It misses what occurs when there are social forces. For example, an individual’s ability to reach “evaluation” can easily be clouded by “groupthink.”

Responses to Criticism
Critics make valid points. However, they need to keep a few things in mind. First, Bloom saw his work as scientific and therefore contributed to the larger, democratic pool of scientific reserach. If his theories were incomplete, this is because he saw them as always changing and he validated many outside theories. In addition, his taxonomy focuses on learning and assessment more than on how to teach. When critics take the time to read his work, they realize it was much broader than first assumed. In terms of being too precise and too individualistic, that is understandable. He lived during a period of rugged American individualism. He was a modern man, which meant that he took individualism, science and objective knowledge for granted.

Service Learning: Criticisms

There are some critics of service learning. For various reasons, they believe that service learning does not work.

Criticisms of Service Learning

  1. Neo-imperialism - Service learning can begin with a presupposition that the community is bad and that they need the students to "fix" it. This can have a shaming effect on the community and breed resentment over the long run.
  2. Not academic - The activities themselves can sometimes lack the academic rigor that other curricular activities require. It is hard to justify making phone calls and planning an activity rather than reading a book.
  3. Too isolated - Many of the projects are singular, isolated experiences that do not lead to long-term, sustainable change.
  4. Not enough reflection - Many programs fail to engage students in deep thinking during the reflection. Thus, students end up summarizing what they did rather than delving deeply into the reflective process.
  5. Reinforces stereotypes - If they are not careful, it can reinforce stereotypes (all Africans are poor, for example) In the activities themselves, there can be a tendency toward gender stereotypes or unintended reinforcement of hierarchichal structures.

Service Learning: Ideas


The following is a list of some of the service learning ideas:

Food Bank - Students organize a food drive, visit a food bank, research issues of hunger and interview people about the causes of poverty and hunger in our city. They can write reflections about the experience as well as writing poems, developing a website or creating a short video about their experiences.

Flower Power - Students decorate pottery and place flowers in each pot. From there, they deliver the flowers to a nursing home, where they interview the residents and create a podcast. Afterward, they reflect upon generational differences and their own feelings about age and agism in society.

Graffiti Busting - Students do a community Needs Assessment, where they interview neighbors about the influence of graffiti on the community. They can go beyond this, into research and explore their own ideas. Then, on a weekend, they paint over graffiti in the community. Afterward, they write reflections on the process and can even write new reflections if the areas get tagged up again.

It Takes a Village - Students find ways to honor the people in their community (and at the school) who make their education happen. They can write thank you notes or put on a breakfast for classified staff members.

Nothing But Nets - Students research the effects of malaria on the body and use Google Maps to find areas of Africa with high malaria rates. Afterward, they find innovative fundraisers to raise money for nets. Within their reflections, they should consider the difficulty of serving people who live so far away.

Soldier Letters / Care Package - Students write thank you notes and create care packages for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. This can work well with additional interviews with soldiers.

Service Learning: Description of the Theory


Service Learning is an elusive concept. There are so many definitions that it can be difficult to determine exactly what service learning means. For some, it is an excercise in civic virtue and patriotism- a sort of Boy Scouts in school. For others, it is an excercise in Critical Pedagogy. In some schools, service learning is simply a mandatory time of community service. In other schools, it is an entire program with a curriculum and classes.

In general, all service learning should include the following:

  1. A cycle of action and reflection. The reflection should lead to some type of inquiry that leads to more action. The reflection is critical, because without it, we fall into mindless activism. Yet, without action, we fall into meaningless intellectualism.
  2. Partnerships with organizations. Over the long term, service should lead to deeper partnerships within the community.
  3. A connection to the curriculum. Whether this is a separate class or a connection to social studies or language arts, service learning should be integrated into the curriculm in general.
  4. Studetns should be involved in all phases, including the intial planning and inquiry.

Multiple Intelligences: Criticisms


  1. Too many "intelligences" without enough science. For some, the addition of naturalistic and culinary intelligences are unrealistic to a classroom and do not seem to be a different way of information processing.
  2. Why classify students? In other words, in the goal to reach all students, there is a certain danger in labelling students. If we tell a child that he is kinesthetic because he works on cars, it could simply be his socialization that led him to that point. When teachers make that assumption without knowing the science of multiple intelligences, we can accidentally stereotype students.
  3. Knowledge doesn't fit into cute categories. The fact that we dice up intelligence into all these categories suggest a very Newtonian, modern view of knowledge. This denies the post-modern critique of fluidity and the newer sciences that break away from rigid classification.
  4. It doesn't take account for the cultural and social changes that occur. For example, Neil Postman developed the theory that Western civilization began with an oral culture and shifted to a print (or text) culture after the printing press. This was followed by the emergence of a visual culture and now a digital culture. Is it any wonder, then, that students would be so visually-driven?
  5. It leads to excuse-making. Rather than encouraging a student to develop another form of intelligence, teachers (or worse, parents) can use multiple intelligences as an excuse for failing to learn. In fact, this seems to be the most common critique of Multiple Intelligences: that it denies the fact that there are smarter students and that all students need the same skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Those within the Core Curriculum movement are often the most vocal opponents to integrating Multiple Intelligences into instruction. Instead, they advocate a return to the traditional modes of instruction. A critic might quip, "A kid doesn't need to split a pie to learn fractions or hit a baseball to learn percentages."
  6. Some have argued that multiple intelligences might be better understood using the older, Jungian archetypes and the newer ideas of the Myers-Briggs tests. For example, sensate and intuitive processing might be more accurate than the views that Gardner posits.
  7. It can reinforce negative stereotypes associated with hereditary intelligence. While Gardner does not suggest an either / or approach to hereditary, the application is often that children are born with a specific intelligence, which some critics say reinforces stereotypes.

Multiple Intelligences: Visual-Spatial

Some have argued that visual and spatial learners should have separate categories. The argument is that the brain does not process abstract visual and spatial visual information in the same way. Furthermore, some people have a difficult time with visual but excel in spatial thinking (or vice versa). Yet, Gardner has linked the two together.


Visual learners need to see the information being presented. They prefer to think about information in a way that is more visual and graphic. If a teacher sits and lectures without providing graphs or images, the visual learner can feel lost. A teacher will often hear a visual learner say, "I'm trying to picture it," and an overwhelming amount of abstract information can seem like overload.

Teaching Strategies
  • Graphs
  • Graphic Organizers - charts, Venn Diagrams
  • Images
  • Outlines
  • Concept maps
  • Metaphors
  • Collages (also kinesthetic)
  • Spreadsheets
  • Pictures
  • Videos (to a certain extent)
  • Slides
  • Ranking information in a visual way - timeline, etc.
  • Video editing


Spatial thinkers can visualize information well in a way that relates to physical space. For example, they find it easy to visualize an object rotated at different angles. In think of the world, they find it easy to envision a globe with various zones of countries. Spatial thinkers can take verbal information and apply it to a physical space. Thus, they'll think of a conversation by imagining where they sat. They'll take notes and lay them out spatially into separate areas.

Teaching Strategies

  • Belief Walk - where they walk from the agree to disagree side
  • Rank from 1-10 - where students hold up an item and physically move according to their rank
  • Divided Areas - having students divided up according to the space; for example, "this area is the house and this is the senate. Each desk represents one space."
  • Manipulatives designed to separate space - for example, having them place note cards on a long timeline or using hula hoops for Venn Diagrams
  • 3-D modelling - Google Earth, for example

Multiple Intelligences: Kinesthetic


Kinesthetic learners can find school frustrating, because they learn best when they are actively engaged with the physical environment. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing rather than by seeing or listening. Often a kinesthetic learner can understand something through the five senses - being able to touch the cotton rather than hearing a lecture on slavery or doing a "belief walk" rather than a debate.

Teaching Strategies
  • Move around - walk from table to table and analyze information
  • Physical artifacts - being able to touch and feel an item
  • "Mock" history - turning the class into a factory, into a slave ship, etc.
  • Belief Walk - also a spatial method (walk from 1-10) according to beliefs
  • Use of JavaScript - roll over an object and discover something
  • Video Games (although there is strong debate on this one)
  • Acting out
  • Role playing
  • Collages (also visual)

Multiple Intelligences: Kinesthetic


Kinesthetic learners can find school frustrating, because they learn best when they are actively engaged with the physical environment. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing rather than by seeing or listening. Often a kinesthetic learner can understand something through the five senses - being able to touch the cotton rather than hearing a lecture on slavery or doing a "belief walk" rather than a debate.

Teaching Strategies
  • Move around - walk from table to table and analyze information
  • Physical artifacts - being able to touch and feel an item
  • "Mock" history - turning the class into a factory, into a slave ship, etc.
  • Belief Walk - also a spatial method (walk from 1-10) according to beliefs
  • Use of JavaScript - roll over an object and discover something
  • Video Games (although there is strong debate on this one)
  • Acting out
  • Role playing
  • Collages (also visual)


This could be your classroom if you took kinesthetic learning to an extreme.

Multiple Intelligences: Logical-Mathematical


The Logical / Mathematical learner has an easy time using reason to solve problems, with a penchant for discovering patterns and relationships. It is not uncommon for this type of student excel in both math and science and, within writing, to do well in grammar or syntax. This does not mean that a logical / mathematical person will excel in all math. For example, for this type of thinker, geometry can be difficult if there is too much spatial or visual thinking.

Teaching Strategies

  • Organized outlines
  • Sequential order / chronology
  • Find the facts - analyze information for reason / logic
  • Ranking ideas or arguments based upon logic
  • Problem-based learning - analyzing a problem and creating a solution
  • Critiques
  • Using the scientific method
  • Integration of math into other subjects
  • Analyzing data

Multiple Intelligences: Logical-Mathematical


The Logical / Mathematical learner has an easy time using reason to solve problems, with a penchant for discovering patterns and relationships. It is not uncommon for this type of student excel in both math and science and, within writing, to do well in grammar or syntax. This does not mean that a logical / mathematical person will excel in all math. For example, for this type of thinker, geometry can be difficult if there is too much spatial or visual thinking.

Teaching Strategies

  • Organized outlines
  • Sequential order / chronology
  • Find the facts - analyze information for reason / logic
  • Ranking ideas or arguments based upon logic
  • Problem-based learning - analyzing a problem and creating a solution
  • Critiques
  • Using the scientific method
  • Integration of math into other subjects
  • Analyzing data


Multiple Intelligences: Intrapersonal


It is a misnomer to label intrapersonal thinkers as loners or shy. Often, they are very intuitive and introverted, but that does not mean they are quiet. It simply means they find their motivation and passion from within and they enjoy delving into the depths of themselves to find answers and ask questions. Intrapersonal learners can have a difficult time in group work if they have to compromise too much of their own autonomy.

Teaching Strategies
  • Reflections
  • Journals
  • Goal-setting
  • Online publishing
  • Reading
  • Self-paced independent projects
  • Introspective questioning
  • Poetry
  • Creative writing
  • Personal collages

Multiple Intelligences: Interpersonal


Interpersonal learners prefer to collaborate and share ideas with a group. To them, learning should take the best parts of all group members so that they can broaden their perspectives. Rather than looking within introspectively, they prefer to spur dialogue as a group and hash out ideas through conversation. To them, learning needs to be interactive.

Teaching Strategies

  • Role-playing
  • Video conferencing
  • Mock Trial
  • Discussions
  • Group activities
  • Socratic Seminars
  • Collaborative technology - Google Documents, Wikis, Discussion Boards
  • Podcasts

Multiple Intelligences: Existential


Existential thinkers to tend lean toward the deeper, philosophical questions. They prefer to ask, "Why am I doing this?" and "How does this help me to live well?" An existential thinker typically has a strong sense that education must be meaningful - not simply to pass a test or earn a scholarship, but to think better about life. An existential thinker will often add a spiritual, intuitive, philosophical or abstract component to education.

Teaching Strategies

  • Socratic Seminar
  • Philosophy of _______
  • Developing difficult questions to spur dialogue
  • Adding a human dimension to a class
  • Examining epistemology - the journey of truth
  • Journaling with difficult questions
  • Dialogues about ethics within politics
  • Writing Socratic dialogues
  • Analyzing writing with concepts such as world view, character development and theme
  • Inquiry and guided inquiry
  • Activities that begin with "What if . . .?"
  • Analyzing social issues through an existentialist filter - "Why is there injustice?"


Multiple Intelligences: Auditory-Linguistic


This type of intelligence is the most commonly seen in school and the least common in the population. Those who have a high level of audio-linguistic intelligence connect well to language. Often, they write well, read well and have a fairly easy time staying on track with lectures. It is not uncommon to see an Audio-Linguistic person write quickly and nearly flawlessly with a broad range of prose and poetry.

Teaching Strategies

  • Lecture
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Discussion
  • Debates
  • Web publishing
  • Blogs
  • Mock Trial
  • Podcasts

Multiple Intelligences: Theorist


As a professor of cognition (the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at theHarvard Graduate School of Education) John Howard Gardner pioneered brain research that challenged the prevailing assumptions that a paper and pencil test could measure intelligence. Within the early 1980's, his theories were already being accepted within academic circles.

In 1993, Howard Gardner wrote Framing Minds in an effort to provide a mainstream method of communicating his theory of multiple intelligences. Since then, he developed the theories to include naturalistic and existentialist intelligences.

In addition, Gardner continued to write books for a semi-popular audience. For example, his book Responsibility at Work surveyed various professions with the goal of discovering what types of intelligences were used in various places of employment. Changing Minds dealt with the topic of why and how people change their minds - and why it is so rare.

Multiple Intelligences: Introduction


For many teachers, multiple intelligences has been drilled into their minds. From the beginning of a bachelor's program, professors have emphasized the need to reach all students in the best possible modality. One student might need a hands-on lesson while another needs to listen verbally to a long description of what happens.

Sadly, many of the teachers who heard about the importance of multiple intelligences never experienced it in their schooling. A professor would stand in front of a PowerPoint and lecture students about not lecturing. "Use kinesthetic learning, because those are the students who fall the furthest behind," a teacher would explain and drop it at that.

People fail to take into account the fact that Multiple Intelligences is a theory based upon sound, solid brain research. A light, superficial knowledge of it can actually do more harm than good. In this sense, it can be dangerous when a teacher uses Multiple Intelligences as an excuse for students failing to read or write. "She's just a visual learner, so I'll show a movie instead." A better goal is to use differentiated instruction from a Multiple Intelligence framework so all students can learn; not to replace reading, but to help them to improve in reading.

The goal here is to explore the underlying theories of multiple intelligences and offer instructional strategies for teachers. Multiple Intelligences can be difficult to implement, because it often requires teachers to think differently and creatively in planning lessons.


Morever, in a subject where the written word is highly prized, a kinesthetic or spatial activity can seem like a loss in academic learning time. This is especially true when there is increased pressure to perform well on standardized tests.

Critical Pedagogy: Criticisms


1. Ignores Virtues of Dominant Culture - Critical Pedagogy disregards the values implicit within social structures. For example, in its criticism of American Imperialism, critical pedagogy ignores the virtues of America. They miss the fact that our foreign intervention has liberated people and stopped genocide, even if it has also killed civilians and created totalitarian governments.
2. Critical Pedagogy Indoctrinates – Because they do not believe that education can be neutral, there is a subtle temptation to indoctrinate students. Critical theorists point out that the current system already indoctrinates and that critical theory at least allows students to develop their own convictions. However, critics of Critical Pedagogy feel that this undermines the work of parents, churches, family and other social institutions in instilling values among their children.
3. Limited in Scope – Critical theory makes sense in language arts and in social sciences. However, it is difficult to see how it can apply to math or science. Though there is some validity there, critical pedagogy could be applied in certain circumstances to math and science. For example, critical pedagogy encourages students to challenge assumptions, create hypothesis and test it with action. After all, Albert Einstein grew up in an oppressive learning environment and faced harsh rebukes because of his lack of conformity to rules. Yet this is precisely why he was able to discover the theory of relativity.
4. Hypocritical - Most adherants to Critical Pedagogy will be quick to attack Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln, but will be slow to criticize Malcom X or Che Guevara.

Responding to Criticisms
Perhaps the hardest barrier to overcome is critical theory’s association with Marxist dogma. With the fall of Communism, it would seem that there is not much of a place for critical pedagogy. However, many more “conservative” educators have redefined critical pedagogy. Neil Postman, for example, pioneered a new method of media studies, blending together Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the non-neutrality of technology with social sciences and literature.

I find it sad that critical pedagogy has been interpreted so narrowly by educators. In reality, it harmonizes well with other theories. For example, the use of dialogue and small group interaction fits well with cooperative learning. The notion of collective wisdom and a democratic approach meshes well with the Social Learning Theory. The idea of students thinking critically about society, about presuppositions and even about authority fit well with Bloom’s Taxonomy – especially in terms of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Moreover, the call to action, which is part of Freire’s learning cycle, involves Bloom’s idea of application.

Critical Pedagogy: Ideas


Applying this to . . .
Classroom Management – How the group interacts
This means that management needs to be more democratic. Teachers need to do less “talking to” and engage in fewer power struggles. Instead, they ought to generate discussions and engage in a meaningful dialogue. Rather than seeing a classroom as something to be dominated and tamed, they can create a democratic feel that will allow students to express tehmsevles respectfully.
Example: A student disrupts class and a teacher pulls him or her aside for a conversation about why the student did that and what the student believes about the action.

Teaching Philosophy – Why you teach
Why do students learn? The traditional answer is to prepare students for the workforce. Yet, critical theory rejects that notion as a byproduct of an industrialized, factory-based model. Instead, they see education as something that “humanizes” and helps build “concientousness” (to use Freire’s term.) In low-income settings, teaching should be a means of empowerment and should connect to the community as a whole.
Example: A teacher would encourage students to create their own philosophies of education. A class might work collaboratively on a class purpose statement.

Assessment – How you know student’s learn
The only way to assess knowledge is to see life change. Rather than using standardized tests, or even letter grades, critical pedagogy advocates alternative modes of assessment. Even the rubric is seen as an artificial construct. Therefore, the only way to see if students have learned is to evaluate how a student has applied that knowledge to life as a whole. Often, this leads to a certain social activism that is absent in traditional education. Criticis point out how subjective this can be. It can seem to miss the rigour of an academic assessment. Yet, proponents of these alternative methods point out that it is more authentic to life. Many proponents of critical pedagogy also believe in the notion of differentiated instruction so that students are more active in the learning process.
Example: A class goes on a service learning project and has a reflective dialogue when the project ends. This would then lead into a letter writing campaign and a protest.

Instruction – How you teach
In terms of instruction, critical pedagogy offers very few practical applications. For the most part, they advocate a constructivist style of education. Students are encouraged to challenge theories and ideas that are dominant in society. In a math or science class, this means that students engage in dialogue and test hypotheses. In social sciences and language arts, they study the relationship between power, culture and beliefs. There is a blending of subjects in critical pedagogy which also has a constructivist bent. Students are encouraged to connect knowledge from one subject area to another.
Example: A class has a debate about the role of the media in politics. They might read various textbooks or state standards and analyze them for bias, then contact those in power to share their findings.

Critical Pedagogy: Theorists



He may look like Santa Clause and he has been accused of being "red" but Paulo Freire rejected Communism despite his neo-Marxist methodology.

The major theorist behind critical pedagogy has been the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. However, the history of critical theory begins earlier. The earliest theorists were part of the Frankfurt School in Germany. Heavily influenced by the diagnostic methods of Marx, they believed that the traditional German approach (modeled after a factory) had to be replaced by a more humane, democratic and critical system.

It is not suprising that this theory began in the early 1920’s. The entire world was questioning theories and skeptical of powerful social instutions, after facing the bloodiest war in global history. After all, in science, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the early notions of quantum mechanics were both challenging the Newtonian system. In art and music, modernism, with its avante garde approach had overthrown the harsh confinement of a Victorian system. Throughout the world, intellectuals began to advocate socialism and Marxism. It is understandable that, with this new modern worldview, critical pedagogy would change educational theory.

With the rise of Hitler, the Frankfurt School fled throughout the world. Although this first appeared to destroy the theory, the diaspora of academics meant that the seeds of critical theory were planted in unusual places. In the 1960s, another period of questioning and change, Jergen Habermas emerged as the leading voice of critical theory.

However, it would be in the unexpected nation of Brazil that the greatest critical theorist would emerge. Paulo Freire lived in the impoverished town of Recife, where his family went from solidly middle class to scraping by in poverty. Though he later donned the same scruffy beard, Freire differed from Marx in that he actually experienced poverty first hand and developed his theories from his work with labor unions. His major focus was adult education and empowering the poor through literacy skills. Freire was the first to develop the “base groups” which would become a permanent fixture for years to come in Latin America. Freire’s work inspired people in a fields, from the development of Liberation Theology in the Catholic Church to grass roots political parties to alternative adult education programs.

Currently, the most famous critical theorist is Henry Giroux, who serves as professor at Penn State University. Giroux uses some of the neo-Marxist approach, but has been heavily influenced by post-colonialism (Especially Edward Said and Noam Chomsky) in their criticisms of hierarchical structures. Many postmodernists have borrowed from and transformed some of the key tenets of critical pedagogy in order to create a new system of education.

Oddly enough, some of the leading practices in this style of education come from the postmodern evangelical Emergent Church movement. Here the pastor engages in a dialogue with a small group as they grapple with how challenge social structures. Using Freire’s Axis-Praxis cycle, they attempt to connect their theology with the realities of life.


Picture of Girox (left) and Chomsky (right)

Critical Pedagogy: Description of the Theory


Most adherents to Critical Pedagogy define their philosophy by what they are not rather than by what they believe. For example, a proponent of the theory might say, “We’re not traditional. We’re not oppressive. We’re not intrusive.” Yet, they have a difficult time setting down distinct ideas about what they do believe.

Part of this is understandable. Due to the dialectical nature of Critical Pedagogy, they are careful about setting up rigid theories that might become dogma. Also, because they are so global and span such a long time period, each theorist has a different set of ideas of how to define the theory. Finally, out of fear of Critical Pedagogy becoming too institutionalized, most people who practice it are slow to make it universal.

Historically, Critical Pedagogy has had a Marxist bent. Some of the theorists have been more outspokenly Marxist, such as Paulo Freire or Howard Zinn. Others, like Edward Said or Noam Chomsky have simply advocated for a more democratic educational system. Although he wrote very little about education, critical theorists often find inspiration from Michel Foucault and his analysis of hierarchichal systems of control. The most popular critical theorist for a popular market in the United States has been Jonathan Kozol, whose first work, Savage Inequalities, which evalted the racial and socioeconomic gap, raised eyebrows throughout the educational community.

Facets of the Theory
These Facets of the Theory are more like rough guidelines than rigid ideas:

  • A Critique of Power – Critical Theorists are slow to accept the current political and educational structures. Indeed, they question whether the current system actually indoctrinates children rather than teaching them to think independently.
  • Democratic – They believe that the group as a whole should decide the course of education. The teacher is simply a guide or a facilitator who leads discussions toward the greater goal. Eventually, every teacher should be able to leave a group of students alone to fend for themselves.
  • Dialogue – Even in a math class, there needs to be dialogue. Students need to generate questions and give answers. Conflict is encouraged, because it is part of how students create their own belief system. However, eventually students should be able to come to some sort of conclusion.
  • Education Cannot be Neutral – This is the idea that there are times when teachers cannot present information as simply objective facts. Indeed, students must figure out who is “right” and who is “wrong,” although many of them would use terms such as who has freedom and who is marginalized or who has power and who needs to be empowered. According to Critical Pedagogy, there is always a distinct connection between philosophy, culture, institutions and power.

    Major Goal
    Education must be active! Every student must be able to use what they learn in the real-world so that they can benefit society. The following diagram was formulated by Paulo Freire.

    According to this idea, a student who learns, but doesn’t apply the knowledge becomes a dry intellectual. However, someone who acts without reflecting (both ahead of time and afterward) becomes a social activist without much thought.

    Revisionists have attempted to add aspects to this cycle. Some have used "prior experiences,"others "dialogue" and even "direct instruction." Yet, there is something clear and realistic in this simple cycle. True, it might not be perfect, but the attempts to alter it often cause it to lose its effectiveness.

Cooperative Learning: Criticisms


Cooperative Learning can have some drawbacks, especially if it is not applied correctly:

  1. The use of competition: Whether this is between groups or within the group, competition tends to fight against collaboration. Often teachers will add this as an additional motivational factor only to watch the motivation move from intrinsic to extrinsic and the quality drop as result.
  2. Classroom Management: If groups have not learned the specific procedures of Cooperative Learning, they can easily get off-task (hence the need for accountability) or get too noisy.
  3. Group Think: Groups can reinforce misonceptions and engage in groupthink when members do not have a chance to challenge others. It creates a culture of conformity, which can be dangerous to any child's education.
  4. Group Dysfunction: If groups are chosen too poorly, students at the bottom do no work while the students at the top do all the work. At times, this can be an issue of perfectionism at the top or a low sense of self-efficacy at the bottom. Other group dysfunction includes bullying, gossip, slander and avoidance.
  5. Too complicated: Often times, teachers make Cooperative Learning too complicated. It might be an issue of creating elaborate roles or instructions that are too detailed. Simplicity is key to Cooperative Learning success.
  6. Dependency on Groups: Students who are too accustomed to cooperative learning can have a hard time adjusting to learning environments where it is entirely independent. For example, they might have a hard time in college, when a professor stands up and lectures.
  7. Not enough collaboration: Some critics have suggested that students need to develop roles in an authentic process and work collaboratively on a larger project without being confined to the procedures of cooperative learning. The chief criticism is that cooperative learning is not reflective of how true collaboration occurs in the real world.

Cooperative Learning: Ideas


For some teachers, it might be best to begin cooperative learning with partner work and move from there. In general, cooperative learning works best when students are placed into groups of four where they can see one another. Although tables work well, moving desks so that they can face one another is a valid option. The following are some of the most common cooperative learning activities.

  1. Jigsaw - Each student from the group goes to another group to do a reading or an activity. In the process, that person becomes an expert on the subject and then reports back to the main group to explain the information. This process works best when students recieve a graphic organizer that they can share with classmates.
  2. Brainstorm - Cooperative learning works well when every member has a chance to add to the discussion. For this reason, a brainstorm works well. Each student has a chance to participate. A brainstorm also works well when coupled with the Pair-Share concept. In addition, Brainstorm works well when it goes beyond the traditional idea of "how many" and into higher-order thinking. For example, students work well when they are told to brainstorm at least five pros and five cons of the United Nations.
  3. Three-step Interview - In a group of four, each pair interviews the other pair. Afterward, the second person interviews the first. Finally, each member shares information from their interview to the entire group.
  4. Pair-Share - The most common of cooperative learning activities, students begin by working or thinking silently. Afterward, they pair up and share information. It could be a discussion question, a brainstorm or a story. From there, the pair shares with the small group or the larger group.
  5. Technology - Using shared Wikis, Google Documents or Blogs, students can engage in cooperative learning activities with the added aide of technology. Again, it is important to assign roles and offer ideas for organization (for example, a team editor, group leader, visual person, etc. ). This works especially well when students use Problem-Based Learning activities and must see the issues from multiple perspectives.

Cooperative Learning: Theorists

It is difficult to determine who "founded" cooperative learning. In collaborative, cooperative cultures, this type of learning theory existed without ever being labled as such. However, in the West, the following theorists strongly influenced the developement of Cooperative Learning theories:

  1. Lev Vygotsky - His theory of scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development suggested that heterogeneous grouping would work best. Teachers would work as facilitators and the groups would teach themselves in a form of peer-mentoring.
  2. Alfred Bandura - The Social Learning Theory set the tone for Cooperative Learning. Bandura suggested that students learn from their peer group and that they work best when placed in small groups with defined roles. Bandura's research also suggested the need to consider issues of self-concept and self-efficacy.
  3. Spencer Kagan - Cooperative Learning began with many theorists doing research about best practices. Kagan, a pioneer in Cooperative Learning, developed specific classroom strategies that utilized Cooperative Learning. In many respects, he is the man most responsible for popularizing Cooperative Learning and making it accessible to the public.

Cooperative Learning: Introduction

It is a misnomer to call cooperative learning "group work." The following list describes the differences between cooperative learning and group work:

  1. In group work, all people have the same job, task and role. In cooperative learning, students have a defined role with a respective task.
  2. In group work, students engage in a task that they could do individually. There is a sense that they don't "need" one another. In cooperative learning, students depend upon one another for each learning activity.
  3. In group work, there is rarely any sense of accountability. In cooperative learning, individuals hold one another accountability.
  4. In group work, there is little training ahead of time. Groups are created and students must figure out how to get along. In cooperative learning, students have recieved instructions in how to handle conflict, divide tasks, use metacognition and set their own goals.

Cooperative Learning: Introduction

Cooperative learning is a theory that students work best when they are in groups, working together to solve a problem, accompish a task or create an artifact. All cooperative learning activties include a measure of accountability, divided but interdependent roles, face-to-face interaction and a common goal of what is to be accomplished.

Cooperative learning has been linked to increases in student engagement (rather than the teacher speaking the entire time), in student achievement, in language development and in self-efficacy.

Despite these findings, many teachers do not structure lesson plans to include cooperative learning activities. For some, any type of group activity is a classroom managment nightmare. For others, it is a control issue. How can they guarantee the students learn the information if no teacher seems present? For others, it is simply too much of a jump from the traditional class of students in rows and the teacher speaking up front.

It is a misnomer to call cooperative learning "group work." The following list describes the differences between cooperative learning and group work:

  1. In group work, all people have the same job, task and role. In cooperative learning, students have a defined role with a respective task.
  2. In group work, students engage in a task that they could do individually. There is a sense that they don't "need" one another. In cooperative learning, students depend upon one another for each learning activity.
  3. In group work, there is rarely any sense of accountability. In cooperative learning, individuals hold one another accountability.
  4. In group work, there is little training ahead of time. Groups are created and students must figure out how to get along. In cooperative learning, students have recieved instructions in how to handle conflict, divide tasks, use metacognition and set their own goals.

Constructivism: Critcisms


  1. The world doesn't work that way. In other words, companies often require isolated, boring tasks, dutiful employees. Work doesn't have to be meaningful and motivation is almost always extrinsic. If things like bonuses and higher salary weren't motivational, why would companies still use them? In response to this, many constructivists point out that in the New Economy, things are shifting toward a more constructivist paradigm.
  2. It can be watered down. Sometimes, in an effort to follow the process, to make things experiental or toreach the "whole student," constructivists can sacrifice parts of the curriculum.
  3. It ignores the need for remedial work. There is a time and a place for drill and review and for targetted work on isolated skills.
  4. Too much reliance on group work allows students to be lazy. It can also mean that they lose the individual drive to accomplish tasks. In some cases, group work can lead to a dangerous "group think."
  5. Misinterpretations are common. For example, people confuse being active with actively engaged, using computers with mindtools, fun with intrinsic motivation. All of these can be dangerously applied in classroom settings.

Constructivism: Project Ideas



  1. Independent Project - Begin with inquiry and follow the students through a research, implementation and expression phase. This can work well with the Project Social Voice concept, where students engage in authentic interviews, community Needs Assessments and primary source data.
  2. Reflective Portfolios - Allow students to show artifacts of their learning and write reflections about what they learned and how they grew in the process.
  3. Solving a Problem - Using the Problem-based learning approach, students can study a conflict, research the implications of the conflict and develop their own solution.
  4. Poetry Album - Students place themselves into the role of the Harlem Renaissance. As they explore the time period, they create a concept map and write poems connecting the concept of freedom. It becomes a Jazz concept album. If students are musically inclined, they can even experiment with using jazz beats in their poetry and doing a recorded poetry album.
  5. Documentary - Students begin with inquiry, move into research and present their information in the form of a documentary. Working in groups, they create skits and story boards and walk through the stages of production. Encourage students to think critically about the medium itself by asking questions such as, "How do people act differently when they are on film?"
  6. WebQuest - Although WebQuests can be too isolated and fail to engage students, a well-crafted WebQuest will force students to make cognitive connections. One idea would be to take a former event and have students find connections between those events and the current events. (For example, the Cold War and the War on Terror)
  7. Create a Candidate - As students learn about the executive branch, place them in a team of political experts who will create a political candidate who can win. The process can involve interviews with real politicians, exploration of current issues and a group development of a political platform. Students can use spreadsheets to analyze demographic data to predict the likelihood of winning particular states.

Constructivism: Introduction


Constructivism is an elusive philosophy. In many respects, like post-modernism, a definition would defy its own definition. Instead, a true constructivist would say, "You define it and see how the concepts are interconnected."

In general, constructivism is the educational philosophy (some would argue theory) that knowledge is internalized and constructed by the learner; that it must be developmentally appropriate; that it should be authentic in its task and that it should meet the needs of all learners. In addition, most constructivists believe that motivation is intrinsic, so they deny the system of rewards and punishments. Moreover, constructivists believe that students should be mentally active in the learning process rather than recieving instruction via transmission.

In many respects, constructivism can seem like an assortment of loose theories pulled into one. However, the single unifying thought is that, in constructivism, the student is the one who creates meaning and constructs conceptual knowledge.


The following paradigm shifts involve moving away from traditional pedagogy and toward constructivism:

  • From extrinsic to intrinsic motivation
  • From grading to assessing
  • From standardized assessments to authentic assessments
  • From direct instruction to inquiry and independent projects
  • From isolated skills to interconnected concepts
  • From the teachers as instructor to the teacher as facilitator
  • From passive learning to active engagement (here the issues is not "active" in a sense of having fun, but of being mentally "active" through meaningful, challenging learning)
  • From rote memorization to higher level thinking
  • From one modality to multiple intelligences
  • From one-size-fits-all to differentiated instruction
  • From transmission of knowledge to construction of knowledge
  • From individual to cooperative learning

Constructivism: Theorists


There are many constructivist theorists. In fact, the following theorists are often credited for developing their own educational theories (lending to the notion that constructivism is a pedagogical philosophy rather than a single, unified theory). Some would say that Socrates was the first constructivist, given his style of dialogues. Others would credit Rousseau (we can't give the French that much credit, though. It's simply un-American. It would be like claiming they made the Statue of Liberty)

Bruner - The first of the educational psychologists to suggest that learning occured in the mind rather than in external behaviors, Bruner helped pave the way for Multiple Intelligences, by suggesting that there were various modalities of learning, including his step theories of enactive representation (action-based), iconic representation (image-based) and symbolic representation (language-based). In addition, Bruner posited the nothion that there are two modes of congition: the narrative (linear, sequential) and paradigmatic (systemic, categorical).
Dewey - Although he was the founder of modern, progressive education, Dewey was a pragmatist who was less about the "ism" and more about practical reality. Dewey believed in holistic education, knowledge construction and a more human alternative to factory-style education. In addition, he believed that education was not "for the future," but valuable in the moment. He also suggested that knowledge should be experiential and multi-sensory.

Piaget - In many respects, he was the first to suggest that learners created their own concepts and that it occured through a process of maturation (in stages). Though many educators now discredit his rigid categories, his legacy is important to understanding constructivism.

Jonassen - His work helped popularize constructivism and helped guide teachers to understand how they could use technology within a constructivist framwork. Jonassen helped to add solid, empiracle research to the constructivist movement. In addition, he demonstrated that technology needed to be integrated holistically and used by the learner to construct knowledge, rather than simply using it passively to recieve knowledge.

Vygotsky - His contribution included the notion of scaffolding, the importance of groups and the notion that teachers should facilitate a learning environment rather than teach directly. Vygotsky helped pave the way for theories such as the social learning theory and cooperative learning.

Constructivism: Lesson Ideas



  • Inquiry-based activity - Students begin by asking a question, developing it in-depth and finding a solution using primary sources
  • Defining a concept - Students create their own definitions and rotate around the room using manipulatives to test it. For example, the word might be "propaganda" and they have to decide whether various artifacts are propaganda.
  • Developing a philosophy - Students pose questions, engage in a Socratic Seminar and then create their own Life Philosophy. Or it can be more isolated. For example, students could begin with a higher-level thinking question such as, "What is art?" followed by a discussion of whether it should be beautiful. They could analyze a shoe and a painting, which would then lead into the study of modernism and Dada art. As they then look at real example, they would add to a concept map about modern art and make connections between modern art and other areas of modernism.
  • Using spreadsheets to organize and analyze information. Students can, for example, input statistics on war casualties of various years in comparison to overall population and analyze which wars were the most devastating. In the process, they can make connections to various time periods.
  • Rating technology - Each group reads about a specific technology and spends time researching it. One member of each group then has to stand in front of the class. Students hold pictures of various technology used during a time period and other students have to rate it. They physically move the students from place to place in order to defend their answers.
  • Classroom as a Factory - Turn the classroom into a factory and have students make a picture. As they work, begin using Supply and Demand to move the workers in and out. See if the wages drop and if the workers unite for a union. Afterward, have groups answer questions about the pros and cons of the factories (it could be environmental, economic, political, etc.). Introduce the concept of supply and demand within the context of the activity. See if they can create a solution to the problem.
  • Have students create a metaphor of what is being taught. For example, if the issue is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, have them create a metaphor and then work in groups comparing and constrasting the metaphors. Have them describe the metaphor in a paragraph and describe a new metaphor if there was a solution. (Example: Divorced family and each group marries someone else) Afterward, let the group choose one metaphor and have other groups accuracies and inaccuracies of each metaphor.
  • Post a reading or a quote on a wall and have groups rotate around the reading, adding their own thoughts or questions to the quote. This can be a powerful way to do high levels of reading while keeping it interactive.
  • Civil War Battle - Create a mock battle where students must use trenches, resources, etc. to have a paper fight between the North and the South. In the process, ask students to define which group has more resources, higher population, etc. Ask open questions, such as, "Was it fair of the United States to prevent the South from leaving?" Afterward, have them analyze charts or maps about each side's resources or primary source writings from the time period.
  • Have groups stationed around the room to represent concepts. Have one huge ball of yarn. Each group can then use the yarn to find connections between various concepts, if they can explain how the concepts are related.

Outsourcing My Job

The term "outsourcing" has such a negative connotation, but it is the best word I can use to describe what I do to save time. There are many jobs that I either hate to do or am not well-qualified to do that are a part of the regular teaching profession. So, what I have learned to do is outsource those jobs so that I can focus on teaching. I now spend more time really analyzing student work, creating lesson plans, tutoring students and participating in IMPACT projects.

The following is a list of jobs that I outsource:

Teacher's Assistants

  • Edit all the videos we do
  • Help maintain the website
  • Take my lesson plans and convert them into the SIOP format (that the school demands
  • Make phone calls


  • Translate information into Spanish
  • Help take the recycling to the recycling place
  • Chaperone field trips

Students - In each class, I have students do the following job

  • Monitor the computer equipment
  • Provide technology assistance
  • Collect and pass out papers
  • Answer the phone and take messages

Community Members - people who I know that want to be involved

  • Community Editors - they provide an extra set of eyes and offer comments to students when they publish articles
  • Interviews and Guest Speakers
  • Online Tutoring - They are allowed to take anonymous questions (that go into a website) and offer their feedback in their core subject. I'd like to expand this to real, face-to-face tutoring some day

Although technology is not a person, the use of GMAIL, RSS feeds, Google Docs, etc. allow me to access and organize student work whenever and wherever I want. I'm thinking of trying MOODLE as a course management system to expand upon this.
So, the question I pose is: What other things could I outsource? What are some things that you, as a teacher, outsource to free up your time?

Tips for Using Internet in Research

The internet is a virtual anarchy of information. There is no sense of peer review, which means anyone can publish anything. Critics, seeing that students often plagiarize or accept any information as valid, simply dismiss the internet as a bad idea for education.
The problem with this rejection is that there are great sources out there. Simply handing a kid a textbook and saying "this is the truth" is equally dangerous. According to our textbook, Hawaii offered to become a state and the Spanish-American War occured only after they attacked us first. In reality, we acquired Hawaii through a military coup and we sunk our own ship, the USS Maine, to continue with our own expansionist goals.
So, how do I get students to think critically about the internet? A major part begins with teaching students to find bias by examing sources. On the first day of class, rather than spending the period covering rules and procedures, students do an activity about the dangers of dyhydrogen monoxide (water) and later see the lies from former teachers. Many students have no idea that the George Washington cherry tree story is a lie or that Columbus what not the first European to go to the Americas.
During the actual activity, I have them fill out a chart.

The first row has: Questions
The second row has: Facts
The third row has: Bias of the site - any elements of propaganda
The fourth row has: Reliability: Reason the source is reliable or unreliable

The chart might seem convoluted, but it forces students to ask, "Is this a credible site?" Also, the "in your own words" is key, given the propensity of students to simply copy and paste. Often this had led to some healthy debtates about sources. For example, can we trust either Fox News or CNN? A liberal or conservative will have different views. Should we trust wikipedia? It's often very accurate, but there are many times when someone sabotages a page.

Socrates in McDonalds

She greets the students with a faux smile and haggard eyes, offering the same rehearsed line, "pick up your bell work," and like androids, they wander to their assigned seats. Though she resembles a Wal-Mart greeter, the classroom most closely resembles a McDonalds. With the prefabricated, inoffensive posters, brightly advertising fractions, there is a subtle message that math can be cheap and easy and fun. From the ordered desks to the grating fluorescent lights, the entire classroom has an atmosphere of edgy boredom, tempered only by the fact that the work is so easy students really can’t complain.

Students fill out prepackaged worksheets, photocopied and handed out with a time deadline. Though the knowledge may be superficial, they learn it quickly and can retain it long enough to vomit it back into the state-mandated, fill-in-the-bubble test. Later, the teacher delivers a freeze-dried, pre-packaged lesson with the same passion and charisma of the photocopy machine, quietly attempting to transfer knowledge that can be measured and quantified and consumed by these wild, hormonal teenagers whose eyes have grown glassy from the sedative of standardized instruction. Thus the factory-model continues with the uniforms and ID cards and rote memorization testing.

Sure, some students drop out, attempting a dollar menu effort and receiving a cheaper meal than others. Most settle for a value menu with inflated grades, specialized with fancy, descriptive words, but containing the same lethal dose of indoctrination. A few kids will go the extra mile and earn a super-sized education, banking on the hopes of an American Dream that promises a magical ticket to the posh suburban lifestyle if they can just behave well enough and memorize the quadratic formula. Except, just like a super-sized Big Mac Meal Deal, the drive for success might some day lead to a heart attack.

The cynic in me wonders if there can be any nutrition in fast-food education. I wonder if we can replace customer service with a relationship, management with mentoring, knowledge with wisdom. Perhaps I can teach a few practical skills, offer some opportunities to connect to the community, generate meaningful discussion an allow students to think independently. I feel like I am subverting the system, like I'll be caught one day. I imagine myself as a doctor replacing fast-food fare with something meatier, tastier and more costly. Other times, I wonder if I am becoming a sell-out; a practitioner trained to follow the bottom line. There's a subtle message that it's better to be mediocre than to try something different, make a huge mistake and disrupt the bulwark of bureaucracy. After all, if the sales aren't high and the results aren't measurable, I have failed the system.

I find it interesting that the values of the fastfood industry are identical to the values of the educational industry. Even the term “industry” bothers me, as if teaching humans is some kind of a business. Both value cost-effectiveness. A full restaurant and a full classroom both mean higher profits for someone – though not necessarily the workers at the bottom. A standardized, formulaic method works for creating a Big Mac and for educating a child. In both cases, the bottom line is efficiency, especially if it can be quantified. There is something disturbing when McDonalds keeps a marquee sign telling customers that billions of hamburgers had been sold. Now, I cringe when schools boast an “exceeding” test-score label on their marquee signs.

Despite my mocking of the system, there are days when I give in to the convenience of a fast-food education. I give a test or pop in a movie or simply re-use a lesson from the previous year. I disengage and manage, so that I can finish grading or fill out paperwork. In the end, like a trip to McDonalds, the result is wasted calories. I feel sick to my stomach. What is shocking to me is that some teachers act as fast-food junkies – sitting behind a desk all day and passing out worksheets and crossword puzzles.

Thus, it is all standardized. Who we teach, becomes mere data in a spreadsheet and categories based upon reading levels or math skills. The teacher becomes a mechanical practitioner, missing the creative notion of a vocation. There is a sense that, like the fastfood worker, curriculum is now “teacher-proof” so that no one deviates from the standardized norms. What we teach grows politically mandated, with strings connected to federal money. Curriculum maps guide the state standardized objectives so that we can assess students with standardized tests, based upon the standardized textbook material. Teachers deliver scripted lessons and students, for their part offer scripted answers in a sort-of mindless regurgitation – a meaningless, secular catechism.

Digital Ghettos

The Digital Divide is not a large chasm separating the "haves" and "have nots." The notion that we can simply fill this chasm with resources and make a bridge is a failure in metaphor.

Technologically, lower-income and middle-income students live in separate worlds. It is less of a chasm and more of a massive wall - perhaps an invisible wall; one so deceptively invisible that low income children can believe they are participating in the Digital Age when they sign up for a myspace account.

The reality is that low-income students often inhabit digital ghettos that prevent them from accessing, analyzing and applying the resources needed to thrive in a global economy. Yet, what are the walls that prevent integration? Technology segregation is not as simple as the former "whites only" signs that were once posted all over the Deep South.

Ghetto Walls:

1. Lack of Access - Although many schools have new technology, the students do not have access to these media because teachers rarely integrate technology into lessons. In many schools, the issue is a simple re-organization of computers. For others, it is switching from proprietary software to open source and freeware. Still, for others, the issue of access is not accessing the technology, but accessing the professional development. They don't know where to go to learn more.

2. Lack of Motivation - Some teachers and students do not want to use technology. It can seem like a fiery, mysterious box. It can feel too complicated and foreign. For some, it can seem like a waste of time in the greater battle of "student achievement." As one teacher in my school put it, "Why should we use computers if we will be tested with paper and pencil?"

3. Lack of Self-Efficacy - Many teachers and students believe that they can't learn computers. They have few opportunities to use it and so they never try. Past experiences taught them that it's too hard and so now they avoid trying rather than being embaressed or dissapointed.

4. Beliefs - For some teachers, it's an issue of a paradigm shift (segregation to integration). For others, it's a matter of seeing the connection between educational theory and the available technology.

the role of technology

Teachers say they want "cutting edge technology" in their classrooms. They view the latest technology tools as a great cure that will finally transform their mundane teaching experience into a twenty-first century, state-of-the-art facility. Words are powerful and often dangerous. True, the computer is a tool and it can be "cutting edge?" But which edge is it cutting? Who and what is it changing?

The notion of a tool assumes we, as humans, have the ability to maneuver technology however we please and it will not change us in the process. The reality is that technology is always a double-edged sword. In being cutting edge, it often slashes through difficult tasks in hyper-speed and creates work that would once have seemed miraculous. But it also cuts us, leaving us scarred and addicted so that the soul of a tech junkie looks like the arm of a heroine addict. We can connect instantly, but we are losing our ability to communicate. We look constantly, but we rarely see. We access information from millions of sources, but there is no transfer into wisdom. I'm not anti-technology.

I don't believe the solution is to create a neo-Luddite paradise among the Amish. What I am suggesting is that technology will never create the paradise promised to us by technocrats like Steve Jobs. Instead, I wonder what it would look like to teach students to use technology, but also to be technology critics. What if we helped them to see the double-edged sword for what it is - something powerful and dangerous that, even when used for good, can still have negative side effects.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bloom's Taxonomy: Cognitive Theory

KnowledgeWhat happens? This is the rote memorization, basic recall of information. Here a student learns some information (or recalls from prior knowledge) and can restate it exactly.
Synonyms (for Objectives): Recall, Identify, Examine, Define, List, Tell, Describe, Label, Match
Questions: Any question that has a yes/no, objective answer Example:
Who won the war of 1812?
What causes photosyntheis?
Is this a right triangle?
Activities: lecture, note-taking, textbook reading, filling out a graphic organizer ComprehensionWhat happens? The mind is able to take the information and summarize it. Thus, rather than simply being able to identify the definition of racism, a student could explain what racism is. This is the point where a student can transfer knowledge from one context to another.
Synonyms (for Objectives): Summarize, Interpret, Discuss, Explain, Estimate, Generalize
Questions: Questions which require the summary of information. Example:
What is another example of __________?
Can you put that in your own words?
Roughly speaking, what is ___________?
Who do you think ____________?
What was the main idea of ______________?
Activities: Write a summary, join a discussion, state in your own words, generate a group definition ApplicationWhat happens? A student at this point is able to take what has been learned and use it in another context. There is a greater sense of action here.
Synonyms (for Objectives): Demonstrate, Use, Solve
Questions- Example:
Given a case study, what would be the best _____?
Given an example, what would you ___________?
How would this apply to ______________?
What would have happened if _____________?
If you were in that situation, what would you have done?
Activities: service learning project, interactive activity, lab, critical thinking questions, case studiesAnalysis What happens? This is where a the mind separates out different ideas and “picks them apart.” Many people confuse this with synthesis, but analysis is not creating an organization, but rather using organization to separate out some other knowledge.
Synonyms (for Objectives): Differentiate, Categorize, Organize, Order, Classify, Arrange, Infer Compare, Contrast, Discriminate
Questions - Example:
What is the difference between _____________?
How is this different from _____________?
Which category would this fit best in?
How are these similar?
How could this be modified to be like that?
Activities: deconstruction paper, categorizing experiences, concept maps, Venn Diagram, SynthesisWhat happens? This is where the mind works like a web. Ideas connect and combine to create a new, coherent whole . This is also the creative, more intuitive aspect of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Here the mind works as a creative force to generate something new and different based on prior knowledge. Synonyms (for Objectives): Create, Generate, Combine, Integrate, Compose, Formulate, Plan, Design, Invent
Questions - Example:
What would happen if __________?
What would be the best solution for __________?
What would be a compromise for _______________
Activities: poster, play, poem, video, website, mural – anything that involves the creation of something newEvaluationWhat happens? The mind judges whether something is true, valid or accurate. There can even be a moral component to this. Synonyms (for Objectives): Judge, Defend, Rate, Predict, Assess, Test, DefendQuestions - Example:
What is the best?
What is the worst aspect of ______?
What is the top _________?
Why is this _________?
What do you believe about __________?
Activities: Socratic Seminar, debate, discussion,
Modifications of the Theory
Others have attempted to modify Bloom’s Taxonomy. The most common revision changes the terminology slightly, from adjectives to verbs. The idea is that, in learning, humans are doing rather than being. The mind is active at work. Personally, I doubt that people really needed to see “apply” instead of “application.” Besides, in describing levels of thinking, it is perfectly reasonable to use adjectives. More recently, data-driven theorist Marzano created a revision that changed the knowledge category, skipped application and split synthesis into generating and integrating. Marzano’s terminology was:

information gathering

Although Marzano’s theory was a genuine revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy, The benefit of this initital theory was that it viewed knowledge as an earlier process of investigation. Teachers have seen how a student failing to “focus” or “information gather” will struggle through the higher levels. The failture of his theory was that it left out application and viewed learning as too traditional. It assumed that prior knowledge was not a part of learning. Also, as Critical Pedagogy would point out, there is little application and action. In the end, the final revision read: knowledge, organizing, applying , analyzing, generating, integrating, and evaluating. Thus, it was basically the same as Bloom’s Taxonomy; which attests to the durability of Bloom’s theories