December 2008 GEC Computers in the Classroom Newsletter

This past week, my wife and I watched the Gemini Awards on television. The Geminis recognize the very best in Canadian broadcast television. My son works in production for the Survivorman series and they were nominated for three awards.

The show was well produced with a great deal of interesting personalities on and off the stage, the red carpet, and all the goodies that you would normally expect to see in a show like this.

For me, an appearance by The Amazing Kreskin stole the show.

I recall being fascinated by Kreskin in my youth and we were faithful viewers of the show. His basic premise was always the same – he is a mentalist and has you sitting on the edge of your chair as he does his thing.

He could always read minds, or make predictions, or somehow do that little extra something that put him above the audience and left us all in awe. He was the ultimate showman and performed his parts with such flair.

Years later, he still has the flair and enthusiasm that I so fondly remember.

On the show, he predicted a couple of the winners by tuning into host Jason Priestley’s thoughts! To ensure the integrity of these predictions, he was locked into a sound proofed glass booth with a couple of accountants to keep tabs on him.

Of course, the great mentalist was correct. Who would have doubted it? However, it was his style and his flair that came through during the broadcast that kept us interested and intrigued in his predictions.

So, what’s the deal with the props? After all, couldn’t he just have written the predictions on a piece of paper and it just be turned over at the end of the bit? Sure he could. I would also have changed the channel.

We face the same thing with students in classrooms every day. Think about the good old days of education where we would hang on the noise of every stroke of a piece of chalk.


It didn’t work then and it sure doesn’t work now.

Much has been said and written about 21st Learning Skills and what students are bringing to the table these days. Does this mean that we bring technology into the classroom to entertain? I sure hope not.

What technology does bring is the opportunity to dig deeper and create better and deeper understandings of the subject matter. Compare a pencil and paper mathematics activity to one with a Fathom or Geometer’s Sketchpad or spreadsheet alternative. Beyond the simplistic “get the answer”, we now afford opportunities to find more, think deeper, and ask the question “what would happen if I just did this”.

We could colour a map or we could explore a related layer in Google Earth. We could create another bristleboard display or we could add three dimensions to it by using Hyperstudio and some internet research to add much more to the activities than a simple display.

Using technology isn’t just a simple transference from one media to another. A favourite quote of mine is attributed to Henry Ford who once said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

Therein lies the genius of Kreskin. He constantly would be looking for innovative ways to keep us engaged in his show. Technology, used properly, can do the same for us in the classroom.

As for Andy, unfortunately, they weren’t winners this year. But the recognition and participation lives on to next year. We’re still proud parents nonetheless.

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March 2008 GEC Computers in the Classroom

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December is Symposium month for the [ ]Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee. Each year, this one day conference is held for directors and superintendents of education, principals, and key computer leaders in the Western Ontario region. At the conference, speakers who are leaders in the field of computer and technology use share their insights with the group as the RCAC uses the event as a catalyst for change.

Over the years, the list of keynote speakers have included [ ]David Pogue, [ ]Mark Prensky, [ ]David Warlick, [ ]Jamie McKenzie, [ ]Doug Johnson, [ ]Robert Sawyer, etc. It should come as no surprise that each of them has a dynamic web presence and ways to stay in touch with each. All of them are big writers and are constantly generating food for thought on a regular basis via their website and some with newsletters.

Each of the speakers is know well in their field and make stands in their particular areas. Marc Prensky is probably best known for his description of digital natives and digital immigrants. He uses these descriptions to drive home the notion that students today have more electronics (and know how to use them) than we ever did growing up. It’s a fun analogy and gives you pause to think about how best to address the needs and learning styles for todays’ students.

Jamie McKenzie comes from a rich academic background and is a prolific writer. The focus of his books, of course, is rich with technology and its use, but focuses strongly on using this and other methodologies in the classroom to push students to higher order and rich curriculum activities. His website [ ]The Question Mark is devoted to these activities and how to ask important and relevant questions in the research process.

I subscribe to McKenzie’s newletter and, this month, he dropped both gloves in his assessent of Prensky’s message in an article entitled “[ ]Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions, and Digital Deprivation.” In the article, he took exception to Prensky’s assumptions and challenged the quality of some of Prensky’s research.

I had to read the article a few times to really comprehend the content.

I enjoy Prensky’s observations, but never took it literally and with a 100% acceptance. I look at the students that I come in contact with on a regular basis. Even my daughter, who served on a panel discussion with Marc last year has access to more technology than I could have dreamed of as a child.

This is her world and there aren’t too many things that I would ask her to change.

She still loves her softball, sitting with a good novel, listening to her iPod, going to school, working at her job, updating her Facebook site, and I’m sure involved with one or two other things that as a parent I don’t want to know. She has a cell phone, knows how to text, and stays connected all the time.

While I don’t take Prensky’s remarks literally, I’m not prepared to ignore them because of some academic reason. Kids today are different and have different opportunities. As educators, we need to acknowledge this and find ways to engage them as well as teach them how to use all this technology responsibility.

Consider the quote from Mary Kay Utecht.
“Our task is to provide an education for the kind of kids we have… Not the kind of kids we used to have… Or want to have… Or the kids that exist in our dreams.”

For me, that’s the bottom line from the message.