Debate 4: Post 4 – Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice
Where my opinion on this debate started and where it ends (though I use that word loosely), has shifted throughout this week. I wanted my post to demonstrate my voice, as well as other voices, and so I tried something different (for me) using Canva. In the future maybe we can debate the likelihood of me throwing my computer out the window but in the meantime…
If you are time-strapped (and really, aren’t we all?), the first half of my video reviews the YAY and NAY key points and shared articles/videos. The second half of the video (11-minute mark) covers solicited opinions from peers/colleagues I respect, and my final reflections (attempts were made to NOT go off on rambling tangents, but….).
In the end, I firmly believe in positive intent and continual learning and unlearning of social justice issues. Everyone is at their own point in this journey; if you are comfortable and have capacity, I would be honoured if you shared your current position on this issue…
Another Monday evening and my brain is rumbling with all the new information laid out smorgasbord-style. Our first debate – Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling) – simultaneously had me questioning my reliance on unreliable techwhile agreeing education needs a more innovative futuristic lens. Both sides presented such compelling, passionate cases I considered calling this: If My Blog is as Fuzzy as My Brain Right Now. I didn’t, and I’ll try to be clear as I outline the presented facts. For me, the question became: Does “basic” mean unnecessary? Let’s see what both sides have to say…
PRO points to consider
I can’t speak for the rest of the class, but in the pre-vote, I was Team PRO- ALL. THE. WAY. As a former student who struggled to learn multiplication facts and spelled I’ve as eyve, I managed to grow up to educate young minds. Sushmeet and Leah passionately outlined why our students deserve more than basic skills.
–Survey says: Based on the survey shared on Discord (P.S. – such a brilliant strategy!) our class respondents heavily rely on technology to complete basic tasks, even though many of us come from a bygone era of basic skill drills. Why? Convenience. Should I strain my brain when Grammarly can spell restaurant for me (after my 6th attempt!)? And as someone who was diagnosed with dyscalculia too late in life for it to matter, using Siri as my verbal calculator feels like a godsend. Newsflash: Our teachers lied! We can carry calculators around with us every minute of the day!
– Less menial more meaningful: With less focus on rote learning, students become free to create and explore. Cue flashback: It’s grade 3 and I am trying struggling to learn anything past 2X2. My mom buys a bootlegged tape (yes, Gen Z, I said a TAPE!) of multiplication songs. I finally learn my facts. I can sing 5X2=10, but I don’t understand why until I am much older.
Has much less meaning than the awareness that an egg carton equals a real-world array.
Additionally, less focus on basic math skills allows more time for critical thinking tasks like makerspaces and coding. Hmmmm, would students rather look at a 2-D multiplication table or make a 3-D printing of an array city? I know what 9-year-old me would’ve said!
–Less impersonal while more equitable: Rote learning often fails to consider the diverse needs (and circumstances) of each student. As discussed in previous debates, tech can provide a diversified approach to student interests and abilities. Likewise, with less focus on spelling (as if it somehow reflects a person’s character) more time can be used for relevant and humanitarian-based subjects: social justice, climate change, and the like. If you’ve read my other post on tech-equity (techquity?), you’ll know I am not a huge proponent of technology bridging the digital divide; however, in the Tedx Talk Re-inventing Education in the Digital Age, speaker David Middelbeck makes a compelling case for a digital shift in education. Technology (when and where available) can be used to help students struggling with basic math and grammar skills; they can then advance to more innovative and employable skills like coding.
–Shift in teacher-student roles: As discussed in class, educational roles are changing. In the aforementioned Tedx Talk, Middelbeck outlines how education has consistently (albeit often too slowly) adjusted to meet the learning needs of society. The printing press marked an increase in class-inclusive education systems. The Industrial Revolution pushed an agenda of homogenous learning and capitalist advancement. Today, digital age educators are helping students use technology to ask and answer their own questions through creation and collaboration. With the use of such technology, how important is cursive writing for students in comparison to programs that allow ideas to flow across a shared screen?
–Other points liketech providing timely feedback and less bias were also discussed, but I’m not 100% sure these concepts exist in the “same lane” as the idea schools should no longer teach basic skills. Please feel free to argue this point with me! Until then, I’ll move on…
CON points to consider
Just when I thought I was firmly entrenched in the PRO camp, Alyssa, Kelly, and Durston presented their compelling reasons why basic doesn’t mean bad in education.
–Current events versus current abilities: If ever there was a timely case for the necessity of basic skills in education, the ransomware situation at Regina Public has certainly provided a relevant anecdotal record. As my Regina-based classmates struggled with tasks ranging from photocopying to inputting report card data, I questioned if I could function without technology in the classroom? Short answer: As an online educator, I can’t. Obviously.
Even in a physical classroom, I flounder with certain basic skills. Thank God ransomware can’t attack calculators, but what would I do without one? The situation was posed in class: If a student asks a math equation and the teacher needs to walk across the classroom to grab a calculator, how bad does that look? Full disclaimer: In the past, I have frequently been that teacher. Of course, it’s not calculators that finally “saved” me – it’s (really) learning my basic math. Hurray for meaningful math strategies! Likewise, it took time and effort for me to master my spelling issues. As Grammarly seamlessly corrects my errors (while I type this), I am extremely grateful; however, without basic grammar skills, I could never catch the issues often missed by computer programs. Quite often, or at least in my case, it feels like basic skills must come before tech skills.
–Mental math before calculators: My anecdotal academic failings aside (are you shocked I actually made it as a teacher?!), let’s return to the data. In Mathematics Deficit: Why do Canadian Students Still Struggle in Math?, author P. Bennett provides some (disappointing) findings: “The most recent April 2021 Fraser Institute report on Mathematics performance of students across Canada contained very few surprises. . . . Steep declines have been registered by students from Alberta (- 38 points), British Columbia (-34 points), and Saskatchewan (- 31 points).” Why? Bennett stresses an over-reliance on calculators since the 1980s. In comparison “top performing nations, such as Singapore, China and Korea, put far more emphasis on integrating mental computation with conceptual understanding before progressing to higher-level math and problem-solving.” In simple terms, we have to lay structurally sound foundations (see: basic math) before we can expand our thinking confidently and creatively.
–Grammar: A Schoolhouse Rock production: We’ve all read the (judgy) adage: “If you say ‘I seen’ rather than ‘I saw’ I will assume it’s never been the inside of a book!” (anon). Schoolhouse Rock, with its catchy beats, led us to believe that spelling and grammar act as windows to our minds. As discussed by the CON team, a lack of basic spelling and grammar skills can negatively impact a student’s future in the following ways:
Employability: Though arguably an antiquated and possibly costly practice, employers dismiss over 42% of resumes based on spelling errors.
Miscommunications: Students have valuable ideas, but grammatical issues can cause their concepts to be lost in translation.
Societal judgment: It’s not a point I like mentioning, but society is constantly judging us based on our grammatical/spelling skills. Whether applying to a university, writing a prescription, or creating a business site, grammatical mistakes can prove costly.
Societal Inequity: This one relates to all basic skills – if we assume technology will “fix” all student learning discrepancies, then we assume all students have access to these technologies in the first place.
Enter the case for programs like Grammarly and Readable. If grammar and spelling are so elitist and important, why not use assistive tech to help students? Every year, I have my students download Grammarly to their Chromebooks, and every year, the ones who don’t have basic grammar and spelling skills seem colour-blind to the glaringly obvious (to me) red squiggly lines. We cannot slap a grammar program on little Billy’s learning (dis)ability – brought about by a lack of literacy at home – and then wipe our hands clean. And as Durston noted in his team’s defense, we can’t just be waiting for future tech; our current technology is simply not there yet. I can attest to that as Grammarly tries to adjust my Canadian spelling to American for the millionth time (despite changing my settings a hundred million times!). It’s colour not color, Grammarly!
–The case for cursive: I haven’t discussed cursive much because, as a person with a weird hybrid form of print-handwriting, I’m uncertain how much this skill has helped or hindered me….or any of my students. In its defense, cursive writing (when a mastered skill) is quicker than printing, allowing for flowing prose and speedy note-taking. Additionally, as noted in the Edutopia article What We Lose With the Decline of Cursive, cursive lights up the brain, activating increased memorization skills. For me, if I have to give up one basic skill for myself and my students, it will be cursive. From Egyptian hieroglyphics to Chinese Hanzi, the way we communicate using letters and images will continue to evolve (and I’m okay with that). Of course, I may just be bitter because my old-school, beautifully scripted mother, consistently judges my sloppy handwriting!
Basic ain’t so bad, and ain’t ain’t a word…
After all that thinking (and it’s been hours on this one topic alone), I have reached the conclusion that “basic” has its place in our lives, neither bad or unnecessary when used mindfully. Like technology, basic multiplication and grammatical skills must be used with purpose. I feel with certainty there is no purpose telling students, “Memorize these math facts! Why? Because that’s how it’s always been done!” Even if educators resisted the use of computers and/or programs, there are still a plethora of innovative, hands-on learning activities that can demonstrate basic concepts without relying on sit-and-get drill sheets. When we teach basic skills to show the why and how of learning, students can use these concepts as scaffolding for deeper level thinking. In their closing remarks, the PRO team quoted John Dewey: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” I would argue that we cannot build for tomorrow if we do not understand yesterday.
Stay tuned for Debate 4 (which I haven’t named yet because I can no longer see straight)….Meanwhile, someone please save me from my own fuzzy thoughts/blog, what were your main takeaways from this debate?
Debate #2: Technology has Led to a More Equitable Society(Week #3: Post #2) Some Initial Thoughts I almost feel a bit pessimistic here lately on the old blog, as again this is a statement that I disagree with. Unlike the other one where if the wording was altered even in[Read more]
Debate #1: Technology Enhances Learning (Week #3: Post #1) A Little Background Before even getting started summarizing the first debate, I have to say that both sides did a great job and what a task it is going first. Even though they went first and had no other group to[Read more]
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When we reflect back on the last few years, I suspect (for many of us) a great divide appears between our relationship with educational technology before the pandemicand everything after. That has certainly been the case in my journey from classroom teacher to Online Learning Support Services Teacher.
As a geriatric millennial, I’m already familiar with the pre and post-technological world. Playing outside came well before my Nintendo and Oregon-Trail memories, and it wouldn’t be until my last years of high school that I researched science essays using my family’s noisy dial-up internet. Still, I was young enough to quickly adapt to the arrival of MySpace, Facebook, Ipods, and then…..oohhhh, ahhhhhhh, the Iphone!
My pre-pandemic classroom existed inside four solid walls. I greeted students face-to-face, using a variety of handshakes, high-fives, and questionable TikTok dance recreations. My pedagogy thrived on personal connection, interwoven with the necessity to stay tech-savvy, and therefore, relevant to my students. We used old Chromebooks to create videos, podcasts, Prezis, and Powerpoints. “Using technology is a tool to prepare you for your future,” I recited daily to my classes (little did I know).
January 2020: I am 1 of 4 educators chosen by my division to attend the FETC – Future of Education Technology Conference– in Miami. We are to source all the best tech- VR, robotics, coding- to bring back to our school division and teach teachers. The words pandemic and Covid-19 are new, whispered, and distant. We don’t know yet…
The surrealness of March 2020 led to a whirlwind crash course in all things Edtech, from TikTok instructionals to Youtube Read-Alouds and daily Zoom chats. Like any literary nerd, I wrote questionable op-eds and poetry to fill the void. The oddest part (that I only dare whisper aloud) is that I found myself thriving in this new online world. The creativity and connection required to engage students online seemed like a worthy and interesting undertaking.
Fast-forward to September 2020, and I am 2 hours into pandemic classroom teaching. Mask-up, shield down, heart terrified but full, I am ready and out for supervision when…I receive a phone call.
“Kim, would you be interested in the division’s new Online Learning Support Services Teacher role?” My superintendent asks.
They have no clear outline of what this position entails. I have no idea about…anything!
“Count me in!” I respond.
What did my mom always say to me about looking before I leap?
The So-Called “New Normal”
More than two years later, 6-7 hours of my work-life is lived online. I still exist in my school’s four walls, but my office is shoved to a remote corner and my co-workers refer to me as “the happy hermit.” For better or worse, I see my face continually on a screen. Zoom and I are intimately acquainted. In my Division, I interact with every school, admin, teacher, and grade-level, connecting them all to our online students. Upon request, I create online content and curriculum resources for any and all grade levels. My job is to make the “new normal” in-school/online hybrid somehow easier. I try my best.
For the most part, I teach and connect using:
Zoom – till death do us part (or so it seems).
EDSBY – Just before the pandemic, my Division signed a contract with Edsby. It is now the main hub I use to communicate, share, and create.
A total hodge-podge: TikTok, Flipgrid, Peardeck, Kahoot, Blooket, Miro, whatever means necessary….including a diverse range of truly strange (non-tech related) costumes.
As for what’s to become of me and my role next year…it’s truly anyone’s guess. As always, I’ll leap first and learn on the way down!