I had to smile when I came across this meme.
I was raised and loved mathematics, having been taught the bottom way. I still think that way. I know that this iteration of the “new math” works in the top way. The mathematics geek in me could actually write the above as equations and generate a proof for why it’s correct.
The bottom speaks for the reality of many parents who are working with their children at home during these times. Yes, it was heavy duty home schooling for a while and the pseudo-return to normal classes has a bit of normalcy to it. But it’s just not the same.
Beyond generating a smile, you have to feel for those parents who have to deal with curriculum support at home sans the two years of education at a Faculty of Education, the ongoing professional learning events, the new approaches to teaching and learning, and things that educators take for granted these days – manipulatives.
Today’s Ontario classrooms have a great deal of access to resources and support for learning. Yes, there are differences between schools and districts based on priorities but there’s so much there that we truly are light years ahead from when I went to school.
Many times, when you go to provincial learning events, some of the sessions actually look like trade shows. Great teachers are often demonstrating some of the latest and greatest that they’ve got in their classroom. They show how they can be used to address expectations and everyone gets excited – until they return to their classrooms and realize that they don’t have access to the same sorts of things.
My best context for this, of course, is educational technology. The premier event for a number of years as been the Bring IT, Together Conference and it’s the best/worst for doing this. There typically is a fabulous space for exhibitors to show what you need to be lobbying for in the next round of purchases of “stuff” for your classroom. There’s the Minds on Media area where teachers are showing off what they’re doing with the latest and greatest. I always walk away lusting after things to play with – robots, virtual reality, etc. And, then there’s the sessions themselves where you get to hear the complete story for 50 minutes and walk away realizing that you don’t have the same resources when you return to your educational “home”.
Sadly, there’s the actual home where parents and brothers and sisters have been picking up a second profession as occasional teacher. Programming / coding has seen a huge rise in popularity in education recently and it’s deservedly so.
But, it’s not my programming.
I learned the old fashioned way. I programmed a computing device and got excited with a correct display of results on the display or on a printed sheet of paper. Cooking with gas as my father-in-law would say.
Things changed when Seymour Papert introduced the Logo programming language which you could use to program a robot that drew on a sheet of paper with the pendown command. Inspired by this and the desire to introduce programming to younger and younger students, we’ve seen a flood of other devices on the market, marketed to education. Probably the most popular? is the LEGO Logo program but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for programmable devices that connect to your computer. Another very popular option that you can build a program around is the micro:bit which is a bit of an oddity since you can program a virtual micro-bit just as well as a physical one.
So, what does this all have to do with the parent at home?
Imagine being a student in a classroom where everything you’re doing is based upon having access to those manipulatives. Then, the rug is pulled out from underneath you. Class has to go on – but how? In particular, I’m thinking of the new, revised Mathematics curriculum which supposedly will feature coding. Imagine being the student who was excited that she could get this device at school to do exactly what it is that she wants it to. Now at home, unless Mom and Dad have the ability to run out to an educational store and buy it, you’re left with a Plan B. What does that Plan B even look like?
I’ve been following along a discussion in the ACSE discussion list of teachers dealing with secondary school student learning programming, typically in Python, and the challenges there. At school, all the computers would be configured for the learning. At home, students have a mish-mash of computers with some even having Chromebooks or have borrowed a Chromebook from school. As we know, typically the school devices are locked down so the workaround of installing an editor into Chrome OS’ flavour of Linux isn’t an option.
There’s no criticism to be assigned here. In no case is anyone taking a shortcut on the curriculum. They’re using what they have at their fingertips. Nobody saw the disaster that the past two school years are enduring. Nobody could predict that the Education Minister is considering options for more home learning.
Right now, teachers and struggling just to stay above water. Hopefully, those at the system level are aware of all these challenges and the potential impact on the future. When we get through this – who knows when – there needs to be some serious thinking and planning done. Teachers are great at Plan Bs. You do it all the time for occasional teachers or coverages. But when it comes to a rejig of an entire unit or course, it gets real.
At the system level, years of planning have gone into equity of access for things that happen in the classroom. We’ve always given lip service to equity at home but if anything the pandemic has taught us, it hasn’t been nearly enough.