Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bridging Content, Purpose, and Collaboration: Jason Science Reviewed

Reviewing Jason Science  

Thinking, writing, and acting with a focus on education today can seem frustrating sometimes - change seems to happen slowly and the potential seems limitless.  However, it’s worth acknowledging resources that really are working and changing the way that teaching/learning occur. 

In previous posts, we explored three applications that bridge the gap between content, collaboration, and purpose as easy access points to initiate change. One such resource noted in the earlier post was Jason Science and for those of you not familiar with it, you should be. It’s a  great resource that scores very high on placing students in an authentic context - thinking and acting like historians, mathematicians, writers, artists, or (in this case) scientists.

The site is geared for middle school students and combines a traditional online textbook with actual research and expeditions undertaken by scientists in the field. Topics then culminate with analysis of the scientist’s findings as well as a call to action for students to conduct their own research. For example, a unit on Plate Tectonics begins with a chapter on geology with the following culminating activity, known as a mission.

From Jason Science: Tectonic Fury, Mission One

To begin this assignment, you will analyze Dr. Wise’s geochemical data collected from rocks around Sebago Lake in Maine to determine the concentration levels of the element tantalum in different areas. From this analysis, you will determine areas which contain high enough concentrations of tantalum for practical mining. Once you have completed the analysis of Sebago Lake, you will analyze your local geology. Using maps and samples collected in the field, you will develop a model of locations in your area which are economically practical for collecting commercially valuable rocks.

Jason Science is a subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, and the site delivers content with print, text, and digital media.  While some elements are for sale, a great deal of the curriculum materials are available free of charge online.

The materials are an excellent example of authentic learning, but fall short of being called Challenge  Based Learning. (Review the criteria again.)

Another nice touch is the personalization of the content with specific scientists who are shown and briefly introduced. That small piece of personalization, the wealth of content accessible in many formats, and (most importantly) the analysis of real research and the extending challenge/mission of personalizing the concepts to the student’s context, can only help reduce the all-too-familiar student refrain “why are we learning this stuff?”.

It’s worth a visit, and share the site with someone else who you think might be interested.  

Changes in the way students learn don’t happen everyday, we need to reward examples that are making a difference.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Death of Education, Dawn of Learning

I've taken the title of this post from an inspirational video that really speaks to the urgency of our job as educators.
The video comes from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and obviously includes some technology heavyweights sharing their insights on the future of learning and technology's role with that process.
I found this video on another great blog site called Digital Chalkie.

Thought-provoking stuff.  The implications of such a change obviously require decisions from national systems, Boards of Education, and school design experts. But I'd like to connect this topic to the theme of my blog at a classroom level, and ask two questions:

What 2.0 technologies are out there that teachers find engage students in collaboration and authentic applications of content?

2) When we view the new model of technology/education (as it is shared in this video)  are we better off:
     a) setting up these innovative (and different) types of schools and then comparing their (hopefully improved ) results as an indicator of the new model's effectiveness. In essence, transforming education by leaving the old system behind entirely and signing on new "believers" through data/perceptions?


    b) developing and sharing technologies that assist and support the existing structures (schools/teachers) to apply this new model of learning within their current environment so that a slower but steady groundswell of opinion builds more quickly for the much-needed change to the system.

Obviously, these options are not exclusive of one another. But which is a more effective model to bring about change?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hardware with Innovation Potential

Our posts thus far have focused on the software innovations that have the potential to change education. But lets give some fair time to the school design and hardware issues that are also moving things forward as well.

One interesting innovation is the SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environments) idea being developed by Sugata Mitra. His entire concept raises some thought-provoking questions, but the idea that most intrigues me is the development of these SOLEs, and the potential they have to MAKE us change our approach.

I also wanted to share an interesting idea article from the Washington Post which was featured on a daily emailing I receive from SmartBrief on EdTech (which I recommend as well).  My favorite line from the article, discussing the future of education as we contemplate all of these tech changes, states that we'll see a "hybrid model between in-person classes that leverage technology and online classes that replicate human interaction"

I second that.