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Me, A Course Of Study.

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This "futures" scenario was written for a Blue Ribbon Panel meeting held by Learning Point Associates on November 17-18, 2004. Learning Point Associates was founded as the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) in 1984. NCREL continues its research and development work as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Learning Point Associates.

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Moursund, D.G. (November, 2004). Me, a course of study. Naperville, Illinois: Learning Point Associates.

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Me, A Course of Study
Assignment # 2: My Informal and Formal Education
Due November 17, 2014
Submitted by Serena Venus Chavez
Student # 2007-3482-3792

I am writing this paper as an assignment in my high school senior year Capstone Projects Course, “Me, A Course of Study.” Because this is a required course, I didn't think that I would like it. However, this course is turning out to be one of the best courses I have had in school. It is causing me to think about some things that are important to me. (I'm not saying this just to try to get a good grade. This really is a worthwhile course!)

The assignment suggests that I start by specifying my intended audience and stating the message that I am trying to get across. The assignment also says that I am to do some research, not just make up everything off the top of my head. I have to have a bibliography.

My audience is people who want to be teachers and people who are already teachers. My message is that education can be a whole lot better than it currently is, and that I have some ideas the audience should pay attention to. Many of these ideas come from my own educational experiences and from talking to other students throughout the world.

Grade School

When I started school, I was eager to show off to the teacher and to the other kids. I told the teacher that I knew how to read. So, the teacher gave me a story to read out loud. Disaster! I hadn't heard the story before, and so I could not read it. It turns out that I have a good memory and I could read to my mom because I had memorized the stories she had read to me.

By the end of the second grade, the teacher told my mother that I was reading a year behind grade level, and that she should spend some time helping me during the summer.

Finally, in the third grade a reading specialist figured out my problem. He said that my brain works differently than that of people who find it easy to learn to read. He said that I was really smart and good at solving problems, but that I was dyslexic. Of course, I had never heard this word before, but now I know it well.

Three things came out of this. First, I was put into a special reading class where a computer hooked to the Internet did the instruction. The software came from a company called Scientific Learning Corporation, and this company still exists (Scientific Learning Corporation, n.d.). They develop brain-based teaching and learning software. I am sure that some of this software can teach a lot better than a teacher. (This does not dissuade me from wanting to become a teacher. Humans can teach lots of things better than computers.)

Second, my mom bought me a laptop computer and the school let me use it whenever I felt it would be helpful. Third, I got to have extra time whenever I was taking a test, and I got to use my computer when I was taking tests that involved doing writing. All of this has helped a lot. I am a good student and a wiz at writing using a word processor and looking up stuff on the Web. But, I am still dyslexic, reading is a painfully slow process for me, my handwriting is terrible, and I am a terrible speller.

When I was doing research for this paper, I spent some time on the Web reading about dyslexia. I learned that even before I started school there was a test that could be given to kindergarten students that identifies dyslexia and other potential reading problems. Even then there was a computer program that worked really well for kindergarten students. The stuff I read said that use of the program actually changes a young child's brain-it cures dyslexia.

Wow! I sure wish that my school had known about this while I was in kindergarten! It turns out that this could have happened, if my teachers had been better prepared. For some reason my teachers just didn't seem to know how to recognize dyslexia, even though this topic had been extensively researched for more than a hundred years and there were some really good books on the topic (Shaywitz, n.d.). In those days, kids who had dyslexia and other major learning disabilities usually weren't identified until the third grade or later.

I remember that I really liked math before I went to school, and when I was in the first grade, and I was good at it. But, by the time I got to the third or fourth grade, I wasn't very good at math and I didn't like it very much. My special reading teacher came to my rescue. He said that math is a kind of language, and that learning math is related to learning reading. He said that lots of students who have trouble learning to read also have trouble learning to do arithmetic.

The result of this is that they gave me a calculator and said that I could use it whenever I wanted to. The other kids in the class said that this was unfair, because they didn't get to use calculators very much. But, my special math teacher told me that they were just jealous because I didn't have to spend my time learning to do things that a cheap calculator can do better than a person. I learned that solving math problems and doing arithmetic are really two different things. It turns out that I am pretty good at math problem solving and math types of thinking—I am just not good at paper and pencil arithmetic.

As part of my research for this project I talked with some of my nieces and nephews who are now in grade school. They said that they get to use calculators and computers all the time. It sounds to me like they treat a computer like we used to treat pencil and paper when I was in grade school. I figure that since the schools finally figured out that if it was okay for dyslexic kids to use computers whenever they wanted, maybe they also figured out this would be okay for the rest of the students.

Middle School

When I started the sixth grade, I got to go to a really modern middle school. The school gave every student a laptop computer to use at home and school. All of a sudden I found that I was a big brain-I could already do all kinds of things with a computer that the other kids didn't know how to do. I got to help them learn. I think that is when I first decided that it would be fun to be a teacher.

The school had a number of ideas that have turned out to be good for me. For example, each term each student had to take at least one distance-learning course over the Internet. This really fitted my learning style, I had experience from doing some distance learning in the third grade, and I could proceed at my own pace and really go deep into the parts that interested me. I began to learn how to learn on my own and how to be responsible for my own learning. In retrospect, that has turned out to be one of the better parts of my education.

As I was writing this paper, I talked to my mom a lot about it. She said that in the “good old days,” students were not given much responsibility for their own learning. If the kids didn't learn, it was the teacher's fault, the school's fault, the parent's fault, the superintendent's fault, the government's fault, and so on. It is clear to me that this is beginning to change. Nowadays, kids spend a lot of time using computers that provide feedback on their learning progress. The teachers help the kids to learn how to learn and how to assess their own learning. I think that this needs to be a much bigger deal in every course that kids take. One of the main goals in school should be to learn to learn and to take responsibility for your own learning.

The distance learning courses I took enrolled students from throughout the country and quite a few from other countries. I began to make friends all over the world. Our computers had little TV cameras so that we could see each other as we were talking to each other and sending instant messages to each other. I had no trouble with talking to students who knew English or Spanish (I was raised in a bilingual home), but I had trouble on reading the written Spanish. (Maybe I need to make this clearer. We used our computers as telephones, as instant messaging systems, and for email. I had a cell phone that could also do all of these things.) I got around this written language problem by having my computer read the written Spanish messages to me. Eventually I learned to read Spanish-this was no big deal.

Nowadays, when my Internet friends talk to me in languages that I do not know, I have the computer translate for me. It does a pretty good job-I can usually follow the conversation.

In my middle school, all students had to take a foreign language starting in the sixth grade. First, I thought I would take Spanish, since it would be easy for me. But, my mom said that I had to take Arabic, or Chinese, or Japanese. She said that I needed to get an education to prepare me to be a citizen of the world-to understand cultures different than the one I was growing up in.

I am glad she made me do this. I have been studying Japanese for more than six years and am getting good at it. I have a lot of Japanese friends living in Japan, and we talk to each other almost every day. I got to actually meet some of them last summer, when I got to go to Japan for six weeks. This was arranged through Sister Cities, International (Sister Cities, n.d.). I lived in several different Japanese homes during that time, and that certainly helped me learn about Japanese culture.

In doing research for this paper, I looked into what other schools are doing about foreign language instruction. It turns out that most schools are not doing very well. Lots of universities require that students have had two years of a foreign language in to be admitted, but two years (often taken while in high school) isn't enough to do much good. While I was eating breakfast the other day, I watched my favorite WINN (Worldwide Internet News Network) and they were talking about language instruction in different countries. I think they said that the United States was lowest among 30 developed nations. That really bothered me, because I know that we are a melting pot of people who have come from all over the world. I have a hard time understanding why our schools do so poorly in the language preparation of kids.

High School

As soon as I met my high school counselor, she asked me about what disciplines I might want to study in high school. I said, you mean “courses?” She said, no, we want our students here to think more broadly than just courses. A course can help you to make some progress in a discipline, but a discipline is much bigger than a few courses. She then shared with me the following material from a really old article (Moursund, 2004):

Each discipline can be defined by its unique combination of:

  • The types of problems, tasks, and activities it addresses.
  • Its accumulated accomplishments such as results, achievements, products, performances, scope, power, uses, impact on the societies of the world, and so on.
  • Its history, culture, language (including notation and special vocabulary), and methods of teaching, learning, and assessment.
  • Its tools, methodologies, and types of evidence and arguments used in solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and recording and sharing accumulated results.

My counselor told me that a good mixture of all of these things is needed to have a reasonable level of expertise in a discipline. She said that our high school is special because we focus on “deep” learning of disciplines rather than just taking courses. She said something about the courses in most schools being “A mile wide and an inch deep.” I didn't really understand what she meant until I looked this up on the Web. It was a term used to describe math instruction in the United States late in the last century, when the US didn't do very well on international comparisons. (We still don't do very well. One of my goals as I become a teacher is to help fix this situation.)

Another thing that my counselor told me is that our school is really good because it embraced the ideas of a computer as a brain/mind enhancement. The way she was talking made me think of turning people into computers by some sort of implanted computer chips, Scary! I told her I didn't want a computer chip put into my brain (even though I have read that this is now getting to be a common thing).

She said “no, that is not what I mean.” She went on to explain that people can do lots of things that computers cannot do, and computers can do lots of things that people cannot do. In each course in our school, students regularly work with computers. In our school we think of a computer as being a brain/mind tool, an enhancement to our brains.

She also said that many of the tests given in our courses are “authentic.” She says that this means that they are hands-on computer and they focus on making use of higher-order thinking to address hard, meaningful problems. What she said reminded me of what she said about gaining increased expertise in various disciplines.

The next week when I started my classes, I was surprised at the type of assignments given. One of the assignments was a team term project, in which a team of three or four students works together on a problem or task of their own choosing. The project has to lead to both a hypermedia document and an oral presentation at the end of the term. An assignment given in another course was the same as the first, only we had to complete it individually.

Each teacher explained that this was part of the school's student-centered philosophy, with students being expected to take major responsibility for their own learning. I must admit that when the second teacher was saying this, I interrupted her and said that I had already heard that story today. I suggested that the story be posted to the school's website so we could read it, and that there really was no need to waste our time telling it to us over and over. (I have a feeling that this was not a good thing to say. I sure hope that this teacher does not carry grudges.)

The hypermedia part should be easy for me. I built my first Website while I was in middle school. One of my older brothers helped me and taught me about making Websites that communicate well and are interesting. (I guess this was part of my informal education, although they taught us a little bit about making a Website way back in grade school.) One of my Websites is about all of the dolls that I have collected. Part of this Website is a Blog in which I talk with other people with the same interests in doll collecting and selling dolls on the Web.

Oh, I forgot to tell you. My mom is a music teacher. When we first got a computer at home, she really got into composing and playing music using a computer. I learned how to do this from her. My doll Website has the dolls move to my music and turn so that you can see them from all directions. Also, my mom taught me to sew, and I sew lots of clothes for my dolls. I guess this was all part of my informal education. When I think about it, I realize how lucky I have been to have such a good home environment. (I know that computers are used in the music classes in our high school. I don't understand why students in grade school aren't learning to use computers to compose, edit, and play music.)

One purpose of the team term project assignment is to help us students to gain increased skill in working with a team of people who are attaching a challenging problem. The main purpose of the second term project assignment is to help each of us to gain increased skills in taking responsibility for our own learning-to learn to learn on our own. I suppose that if I have heard the expression “be a lifelong learner” once, I have heard it a million times in the past few years.

Interestingly, each class also included a focus on making use of the library resources of the world-especially through the Web-to find information about the topics being covered in the course. Most of the courses in our high school do not have required textbooks.

Our math courses are certainly an exception to this. Each year I take a math course, and I usually have a teacher who is determined to “cover” the material and get through the book. These teachers don't seem to realize that just because we cover the material doesn't mean we learn it. I hate it when teachers tell us that we are in hurry up mode so that we can get through the required materials.

The good thing is that my high school math teachers assume that you have access to a computer all of the time. (The teacher said that this was the modern version of having access to a chalkboard or paper and pencil while doing math.) This has been really good for me because I think of math as having a thinking and problem solving part, and a computational part. But in higher math, computation is much more than just doing arithmetic. For example, we learn to “manipulate algebraic expressions.” But computer programs to do this have existed for about fifty years (Moursund, n.d.). They are available on the scientific graphing and equation-solving calculators we use in our math classes, as well as on our computers. For me, this type of situation is sort of like what I had back in grade school when I was allowed to use a calculator whenever it suited my needs. My computer and I together are a wiz at doing math!

Thoughts from My Friends

While I was writing this, I spent a lot of time talking to some of my friends from other countries. Most of these people I met through the Internet, so I have never actually “met” them, even though we have talked together, written to each other, and see each other through our telephone and computer TV systems.

Several of them said that this is a great paper and I certainly should get high marks. They were particularly impressed by the idea of having a course in which students reflect on their education. They also liked the idea of courses stressing learning to learn and taking responsibility for your own learning. They wished that they had more of this in their schools.

They argued a lot about the idea of getting to use a computer when taking tests. They said that in their schools, this would definitely be cheating. They think it is certainly okay for people to use all of the latest and greatest artificially intelligent computers on the job, but that the purpose of school is to develop your real intelligence. My response to this was that I think they are terribly out of date. I think schools need to help students learn to live, learn, and work in the real world.

Final Thoughts

In reading back through this paper, I see I have left out some important things. For example, I did not talk about the portable Virtual Reality Edutainment System that I carry with me and use lots of the time. It has the neatest games, and a bunch of us can all be playing the same game at the same time, interacting with each other in cyberspace.

In our high school, all students are provided a free a basic Virtual Reality Educational System. But, most parents buy their kids a system like I have that is designed for both education and entertainment. This really bugs our teachers, because they can't tell if a student is playing a game or studying a computer-assisted learning lesson.

Another thing I didn't mention is the Brain/Mind course that I took last year. In that course I learned that no two people's brains are the same, and that one's brain is changing all the time. The process of learning is actually a process of changing one's brain. I learned a really scary thing in that course. A brain has various centers or parts, such as an attention part and a pleasure center. The Virtual Reality games are really good at grabbing your attention and providing pleasure. That explains why some of my friends seem to be addicted to the games. Indeed, I think I am sort of addicted, because sometimes I find it really hard to stop playing.

It also points to another problem that schools have to deal with. I have been reading some of the history of intelligent tutoring systems and use of AI in education (Human Performance Center, n.d.). Even 15 years ago people were producing some highly interactive intelligent computer assisted learning materials that produced much better learning gains than human teachers in quite a few different situations. Nowadays, schools want to have students use these aids to learning. The makers of the instructional materials want to make them sufficiently entertaining (pleasure giving) and attention grabbing so that students will want to study their materials. Thus, it seems to me that the schools are helping students to become addicted! (I think I had better wait until after I graduate before I ask the principal if he agrees with this.)

I still want to be a teacher, and next year I will be enrolling in a university in order to get my teacher's credential. I want to take a bunch of courses in cognitive neuroscience, because it is clear to me that this is an important part of the future of education. However, I am beginning to understand that I already know a lot about how to be a good teacher, because I am a human being. I am reminded of a book that I read many years ago written by Robert Fulghum (2003). Quoting from the inside of the front cover of the book:

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

References

Fulgrum, Robert (2003). All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. Fifteenth anniversary edition: Reconsidered, revised, & expanded with twenty-five new essays. NY: Random House.

Human Performance Center (n.d.). Intelligent tutoring, intelligent instruction and Artificial Intelligence. Accessed 10/12/2020: https://www.spider.hpc.navy.mil/index.cfm?RID=TTE_OT_1000008.

Moursund, D.G. (2004). Introduction to teaching and learning for increased math maturity. Accessed 10/3/2020: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~moursund/Math/.

Moursund, D.G. (n.d.). Computer Algebra Systems. Accessed 10/3/20: http://otec.uoregon.edu/it_in_mathematics.htm#
Computer%20Algebra%20Systems.

Scientific Learning Corporation (n.d.). Accessed 9/15/2020: http://www.scientificlearning.com/.

Shaywitz, Sally. Patient-Oriented Research Faculty. Accessed 9/18/2020: http://por.med.yale.edu/listings/ses4.html.

Sister Cities (n.d.). Accessed 9/15/2020: http://www.sister-cities.org/.

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