Concepts Trump Information

Peter Rock has followed up on my previous post, and has thoughtfully expanded on my point regarding the old adage “if you don’t teach x (e.g., MS Office), you aren’t preparing students for the real world”.

Peter responds:

I don’t teach students to memorize and regurgitate. I don’t teach students to use MS Word or OpenOffice Writer. I use such applications to teach word processing. I don’t teach students to use Mozilla or Internet Explorer. I use such applications to teach web browsing. I don’t teach students Scribus or Adobe Pagemaker. I use such applications to teach desktop publishing. I don’t teach students Logo, Guido van Robot or Python. I use such languages to teach programming. I don’t aim to have students memorize the 5,6, or 7 steps it takes to perform a specific task. I teach menus, how they are organized and thus, where they would likely find a sought after function in any similar application. This is not to say that memorization does not occur – of course it does. But most of that memorization occurs unconsciously and is secondary to conceptual understanding.

I supervise many preservice teachers through their internship experiences, and of course, I do my best to ensure that these beginning teachers “get it” when it comes to technology integration. To get a better understanding of how well technology is being integrated into a particular classroom, I find out from the K-12 students themselves. I’ve often used the simple question, “what are you working on?”. Now most of the time, I will get an answer like, “creating a spreadsheet”, or “surfing the web”. That’s not what I want to hear. But, when I enter the classroom of a teacher who really “gets it”, I may hear something like “preparing a budget” or “projecting costs” or “analyzing and comparing information from multiple sources.” OK, the language is not always quite as polished, but even with younger kids, you can easily tell if they are learning a spreadsheet for the sake of learning a spreadsheet, or if the teacher has created an environment where such software is just another tool in the arsenal.

Check out Peter’s post. It’s worth the time.

2 thoughts on “Concepts Trump Information

  1. Not that you need me joining the chorus but I agree heartily Alec. It’s like, are you hammering a nail or building a house?

    This reminds me of our monthly school-board-visits-the-classrooms that happened this week. In one of the science classes we visited the teacher had the results of a science “competition” projected on the overhead. There were several different columns of variables that added up to a total design score for each student. He showed different spreadsheet views with different column sortings and how different students “won” each column sorting. One of the adminstrators whispered to me “great use of Excel”. I instead said “great demonstration of design trade-offs”.

  2. Ahhhh, it looks like we have similar thoughts on this one Jim. I’ve heard myself comment in similar ways to my own colleagues, even those that I think have done amazing things in regards to technology integration. I think, however, this allows us to reach another level of understanding.

    Cheers, Jim.

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