30 August 2012

The Halloween Season Arrives?

So I'm a little confused. My phone tells me that it's in the 80s during the early mornings and heading well into the 90s by mid day. When I go out to jog, the sun is blisteringly and blindingly hot. I still rush in and spend most of my day in the air conditioning to remain feeling like an Earth being rather than a Venus or Mercury inhabitant (or at least like I don't live in Hong Kong without air conditioning anymore).


The rest of the world seems to thing fall is getting on. Halloween stores have been advertising like crazy. I received an advertisement in my inbox for haunted house coupons. When I went into Michael's for a t-shirt, all of the skeletons, scarecrows, pumpkins and corn husks took up at least half of the store. The Possession comes out this week.

Did I miss something? It's not even September 1st yet (though I'm counting the days). Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. Last year I did an Octoberpost series (click here for the series start). I'm all about it. I love that I finally will get to wears some scarves (sniff - alas, I left many in NC during the move), sweaters and hats in my favorite color palette.


It's still August! It's still summery hot outside. I guess it's all just wishful thinking. If so, I'm glad to know that there are many people here that share my love of autumn. :)

26 August 2012

21st Century Skill Sets and Beyond

“Information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, interpersonal and self-directional skills” This list has become the mantra of teachers reciting the skills they should be helping students acquire. Unfortunately, what students need to learn is much more than a list of skills. Beyond these skill sets, students will need to understand their own learning process. Many of the above skill sets are a part of that learning process, but each individual learns in a unique way. By mastering the learning process and, therefore, knowing how to research, study and retain knowledge, students will be equipped to face the challenges that will emerge in the 21st century. This means that rather than learning particular or specialized skill sets, which individuals will then take to work and execute, students will need to be able to learn the emerging skill sets that are required of a dynamic work environment. In order to help students achieve this in the classroom, teachers will need to focus equally on making the awareness and development of a learning style a part of the curriculum. This is partially a metacognitive approach to learning and teaching, but it must move beyond that into the development of good learning habits and how to adapt one’s learning style to the material. This process seems to also necessarily involve ownership of the learning process. It seems that to help students become good and life-long learners, we must help them to understand what we know as teachers.

To be skilled workers in the 21st century means that not only do individuals have to have niche knowledge and skill sets, but the ability to learn new skill sets and adapt to emerging innovations and technologies. It is this ability to learn that is required now and will continue to important in the future. Teaching, in and of itself, is a perfect example of the kind of career that requires specific knowledges and skill sets, but also requires the worker to adapt at every stage of the process and learn how to flourish in each new situation. New students, new technologies, new curriculums, new requirements and the ever changing state of the material that we must teach all require teachers (and I would like to argue that have always required good teachers) to be adaptive, to understand their own learning processes and to be able to help others learn to be aware and adaptive individuals.

Much of the focus, when it comes to new and emerging information and skills, lays in technology. The technologies that students must be competent in, in my opinion, are the ones that are going to make them good learners and performers. One could easily do research at the library with piles of books and, sometimes, one still must do just that. With the internet being a fairly open resource for the sharing of information, however, much of the information necessary to students now resides in servers accessible from almost anywhere. Though all of the information on the internet is not completely reliable, more and more there are becoming sites dedicated to reliable information recording. When these reliable resources (reliable websites vs. piles of library books), the internet takes the advantage for one simple reason: expediency. Not only will students have to be able to find, learn and retain knowledge, but they will have to do it concurrently to fixing the problems that they are working on. In the 21st century, the speed at which events occur makes the internet a necessary resource and the skills sets to use the internet appropriate equally necessary. As I write this, I know that I am referring to “the Interwebs” and the skills sets necessary to use them as though they were one cohesive skill set. I know this to be absurd. This, however, is the world that our students face IN SCHOOL, let alone what they will face in their future workplaces.

24 August 2012

Building a Lego Bridge... without the Legos

So I wanted to post some pictures from my first assignment in my Emerging Tech class.

Lego – Building a Bridge Debriefing
When tasked with building a Lego bridge, the first problem I encountered was my lack of access to Legos. In search for an acceptable alternative, I found a local church had children’s building blocks that I could use for this assignment. I altered the pricing based on the size of the blocks I had in the following manner:

-          Small square blocks = $150
-          Large square blocks = $250
-          Rectangular prism blocks = $350
-          Large flat blocks = $450

The entire process of planning and building the bridge the first time took me approximately 10 minutes. The end result was a 6 in. tall, 14 in. long bridge, which held a heavy textbook. I used 2 flat blocks ($900), 4 small blocks ($600), 8 large blocks ($2000) and 2 rectangular blocks ($700). My total expenses added up to $4200 for the project. I did not use any resources (except my brain) in the planning of the bridge. Mostly, I focused on using at least one of each block type and making the measurements conform to the requirements provided.

Phase 1 Bridge

For my second bridge, I spent about 10 minutes looking at some of the sites suggested, but I didn’t find the Lego sites very helpful, as they referred to a different building material. I used the Ohio Department of Transportation site (http://www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/Communications/BridgingtheGap/Pages/ BridgeTermDefinitions.aspx) to learn a little more about the terms and structures of bridges in general. I then searched sites about building bridges with blocks. I found a website in which some very young bridge builders had built a block bridge strong enough to hold their combined weight (http://earlylearningcentral.ca/?p=511). Looking at their photos, I noticed that in some cases they used multiple blocks as abutments to hold up the deck of the bridge, while other times they used single blocks. This made me rethink my design in a way that made it more cost effective. My second bridge consisted of 2 flat blocks ($900), 4 small blocks ($600), 4 large blocks ($1000) and 4 rectangular blocks ($1400). While the change in the building was not significant, the cost saved was (a total of $3000 for the second project, saved me $1200).

Phase 2 Bridge - with room for a boat or any vehicle that wants to pass under it

Planning Diagram for Phase 2
(sorry this last one is sideways - I can't for the life of me figure out why it won't turn)

I found the second phase much easier, because rather than trying to merely fulfill the requirements, I looked at what other collaborators have done, combined their ideas with my own and applied them to the materials I had. I found searching on the internet to learn the technical terms much easier than trying to find a book in a library (none of which I had access to). I think for the time-constrained learning opportunities that we have in classrooms today, the second phase, in which technology is available for research, to be more appropriate.

While I understand the purpose of this assignment, I felt I had the skills I needed to complete the activity – with or without the technology backing me up. On the other hand, it would have taken me longer than 20 minutes in the second phase if I had not had the technological resources available to me. I think the skills that students will need to learn in order to participate in activities like this are flexibility in brainstorming, critical thinking, knowing how to use the resources available to them and understanding how the creative process works. These skills are exceedingly relevant to the workforce and to problem-solving in life more generally and are 21st century skills. 

21 August 2012

The tech... it's coming

Today I start a course called Emerging Technologies for Teaching and Learning. I'm pretty excited to see what is going to come of this new course. I've already begun to upload photos, update profiles and get back around to this blog, so that I have some place to post of the online goodies.

We've recently moved back to the US from Hong Kong and now are out in Salt Lake City. It's a new place with a new outlook. Some of that will probably make its way into the future blogging as well.