Friday, October 29, 2010

The Point of Technology in Education

By Sean Scarpiello

A typical Monday morning in General Psychology class begins with each student dragging into the lecture hall and grabbing a small clicker the size of a playing card. Today’s topic is “Gender Differences.” The first slide on the power point asks the question, “Do women talk more than men? Using your clicker, answer A for true, B for false.” After about 30 seconds the class results are in. The professor goes on to the next slide and there is a pie chart showing the results of the answers, showing percentages of true verses false. Now the class can have a discussion on the results and their opinions.

This technology is called TurningPoint. It is software that is available for both PCs and Macs which works with power point to poll students on their opinions. This kind of technology makes learning more interactive and thus more interesting. Students are allowed to add their opinion on a subject without having to elaborate in front of a large class, unless they want to. Also, it helps teachers by opening debate that otherwise may be ignored. These debates allow for the spreading of ideas among peers, which allows students to get a better grasp on interesting and even boring topics.

The clickers work over a high tech radio frequency so answer choices are completely anonymous to other students in the classroom answering the questions. This technology allows teachers to play review games before tests with TurningPoint. It then gives instant feedback with the graphs to tell the students and the professor what items students know, and the things they have to study. This software is so versatile; some teachers will give tests through a power point presentation. Since each clicker is numbered, teachers can assign a clicker number to each particular student and then have them take the interactive test. Later, the teacher can pull up the answer choices of each clicker and match it with the students and their grades. Since each clicker is completely personal and silent, it is virtually impossible to cheat on tests. Plus, if students change their minds on answers, they simply have to push the letter of their new answer choice and it is automatically changed. There is also a count on the top of the screen to show how many people answered the question, so the teacher knows if someone hasn’t answered and when to move on or not.

The software works great in all types of classes, but the price can make or break the success of the technology. After searching for 5 minutes, I found websites that would let you download the software for free. However, the software is useless unless you buy the radio frequency sensor and clickers, which cost about $42 each, but the company that produces them has special deals if schools buy them in large quantities. So overall they are expensive, but they are very versatile tools which can be easily transferred between classrooms.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Diagnose Inner City Schools’ Problems

By Sean Scarpiello

It is 2:30 on a Saturday morning when my roommate and I fall onto the couch in our dorm room after a night of how all pre-med and pre-law students spend their Friday nights...studying. My roommate clicks on the TV and after ten seconds of surfing the channels, finds a show called “Teach: Tony Danza.” We are both intrigued. The basic premise of the show has Tony Danza, the actor/boxer, teaching a 10th grade English Class at an inner city school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From my research for writing previous blog articles, I have discovered data that reflects that it is the inner city schools’ students who are pulling down the rest of the country’s test scores, which are ranked internationally. I figured that this was an opportunity to see just what was going wrong with the inner city schools system, and maybe see a TV actor/boxer flip out at some kids.

I was wrong. On Tony’s first week teaching the 10th grade English Class, he was brought to tears by the class. He had all different types of antagonists working against him the entire time. One student, who probably reads the Oxford English Dictionary for kicks, was constantly complaining how the class isn’t challenging enough. Another student who is considered gifted, behaves like others in the class; which either don’t do assignments or claim they have a learning disorder.

First off, I don’t want to criticize or come across as saying that students with learning disorders are lazy, but I feel as if students who don’t want to do the work use the excuse as a crutch. Overall, I was shocked to see how most of these students had a cavalier attitude towards schooling and would simply not do the work or the assigned reading. Half of the class failed Tony’s first test, which I later found posted online. The test didn’t seem too difficult as I went through answering questions from the book “Of Mice and Men” from my rusty memory of the piece.

Ultimately, I found myself thinking up ways to fix this problem. Students could be clinically tested for learning disorders every few years. That will help the teachers to be aware of the students who have a legitimate reason for not understanding the text, and to be wary of those who were just playing the new Halo videogame all night, instead of reading.

The school’s resource center was made specifically for the learning disabled students. The busy resource center was often full of lazy students, along with some students with learning disabilities. At one point in the show, Tony Danza was disciplined by the school’s principal because he denied students who requested access to the resource center. It seemed like the entire school’s administration was oblivious to the fact that some students will lie so they can get away with not doing homework. If schools could implement this idea of having recorded clinical diagnosis, then a lot more students would have to do the work until they’re able to drop out or worse…a call to mommy and daddy, as well as attend summer school.

This also brings up the question of allowing students to drop out of school. In South Korea, it is extremely rare for any students to drop out and they rank high in the international test scores. Perhaps it should be illegal to drop out of school. Or maybe we should raise the age of eligibility to drop out of high school. In my opinion, either method would work.

I feel that “Teach: Tony Danza” is a good representation of the typical inner city school and is raising the awareness of inner city school life. The show may help America diagnose the problems of its inner city students and help us see what needs to be improved. If America can fix their inner city schools, there will be a drastic improvement in this country’s test scores and ranking amongst the rest of the world. It would also keep the US among the world’s superpowers. At the moment, India has more honor roll students than America has students. This means that the US needs to maximize their human resources and make every student count in this ever-changing world. This especially includes inner city students, because according to US census, 80% of the US population lives in urban areas (cited below).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Spanish Class that Saves Money

By Sean Scarpiello

Lately in the state of New Jersey, there have been major budget cuts in the field of education. In order to continue instruction, New Jersey schools were forced to find ways to save money and be more efficient. In Randolph, New Jersey, the Ironia Elementary School has found a way to save a little under $100,000 each year. They have decided to replace language teachers with the software Rosetta Stone. Many students have found their new language classes more interesting, but will the program be successful in the long run?

Rosetta Stone is a great way to teach someone a new language quickly and efficiently. The software isn’t expensive for use on large amounts of students and it is formulated to work with the capabilities of the human brain so students can learn quickly and efficiently. When you ask an American person, who’s first language is English, to think of a dog, the first thing that pops into their head is an image of a dog. When you ask the same person who has a typical knowledge of Spanish as a second language to think of a “perro,” they think of the word “perro” and translate it quickly to “dog”, then the image of a dog pops up into their head. Rosetta stone is aiming to completely eliminate the behavior of quick translation that occurs in just about every person with a mediocre education of a second language. By associating new words with pictures, Rosetta Stone helps students learn faster with better understanding of the new language. The software also allows students to hear and speak the language into a microphone, allowing the software to cover a full understanding of the language through writing, listening, and speaking.

Ironia Elementary School made a good choice picking Rosetta Stone as a replacement for a teacher, but my question - why are they teaching elementary school students a second language? In reality, it is important to teach students new languages, especially in this constantly changing world, but elementary school is not the time to start. Physiologically, elementary school students have a high aptitude for learning languages, but it is tough to teach children a new language when they don’t yet completely understand the English language. Elementary school is teaching the elements of English, and it’s tough to teach a third grader the preterite or imperfect tense in Spanish when they don’t yet fully understand the past tense in English. It is similar to teaching a medical school student to take out a kidney, but without teaching him where to find it and what it does. When I was in elementary school, I had five years of instruction in Spanish and I escaped it with nothing more than a knowledge of colors, the ability to count to 30, and a perplexing attitude towards second languages.

The best idea would be to begin second language education in middle school, when students have a decent knowledge of their first language and use Rosetta Stone up until eighth grade. Upon entering high school, placement tests should be given to see how students progressed, and place them in high school language classes where it is easier and more efficient to teach large amounts of students languages efficiently and with the use of a teacher.

Regardless of the fact that teaching elementary school students languages is just plain inefficient, I think it is fantastic that the education field is finding new ways to stretch their dollars when the government funds them less money for instruction. Schools in New Jersey should be applauded for their resourcefulness in such a difficult time during the state’s transformation.