Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Learning Concept

By Sean Scarpiello

I recently heard the statistic from my Psychology professor that 65% of the population are visual learners. This means that when people can see or visualize data in their heads, it is easier for them to retain that information. I am a visual learner myself and one of the greatest yet underutilized tools for learning via visual stimulus are concept maps. A concept map is simply a way of showing how a series of interrelated topics relate. They should be used more often in the education field and cause more bang for the buck.

Concept maps are typically utilized by science students and one huge misunderstanding about these tools, is that they are only useful in science. In fact, concept maps can be useful in more than natural sciences like biology and chemistry, but also in subjects like political science, economics, business and even math. They can also be quite useful when developing an argument for a debate or a persuasive speech or paper. I find that concept maps are an efficient form of learning. For me, I find that learning about the interaction between topics is easier and more effective when I make the connections on paper, as opposed to having to make the same connections in my mind.

One way schools can implement these into classes would be to create concept maps as a class activity. There is a program available online called “Cmap Tools.” This is a free, downloadable program that enables students to create concept maps on their computer. It is extremely easy to use and download. Since it is completely free, teachers can be sure it is not a risky investment that may fail in helping students. Teachers can have a class activity dedicated to learning how to make them or they can hand out pre-made concept maps to use as a study guide. If teachers don’t have a projector for teaching students on the “Cmap Tools” program, they can easily teach students about concept maps using a regular black board.

The nice thing about concept maps in general is that they can be used for so many different activities both in and out of the classroom; this includes everything from note taking and studying, to modeling projects and evaluating fine details of complex subjects. One way I saw concept maps being utilized creatively was for a debate. It allows a debater to view both sides of that argument and makes it easier to address the weaker points of an argument that can be improved upon. If more people knew about the capabilities of concept maps, they could even be used at a person’s place of employment. This could include everything from lawyers to video game designers.

Cmap Tools Site:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Students Make the School

By Sean Scarpiello

Dr. Robert Weissberg recently wrote a book entitled, “Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.” In his book, he takes a controversial stance and describes how schools are only as good as the students attending them. He describes that if we take bad students out of schools and focus more on the motivated students who want to learn, then the education system will be much more successful. Teachers are not the ones at fault and when they are hindered by lazy students, they are unable to focus on the students who enjoy learning. Are Dr. Robert Weissberg’s ideas true about America’s education system today, and would his suggestions on how to fix schools cause a change in America’s schools?

For the most part, Dr. Robert Weissberg’s ideas do seem to fit America’s schools today. I agree with his stance on bad students and how they hinder many of today’s schools. I myself agree in a “sink or swim” kind of mindset for schools. In my schooling experience, I found that about 90% of my classmates wanted to learn, which was great. However, it was this small 10% of students that just wanted to leave, which really held back the rest of us. It was these students which acted up in class and in the hallways during the school day. It did not occur a lot, but enough to force the school to hire hall aids and “rent-a-cops” which had had the task of removing these students if they interrupted the flow of learning.

It wasn’t that the students directly hindered the class all the time, but they held the school back indirectly. For one, they caused teachers to be a bit intimated by students because teachers would see this bad minority of students’ behavior and label the other 90% to have the same mindset as these punks. Then, it seemed that all students would miss out on some class activities because the teacher was afraid it would get out of hand. Also, if we add up the salaries of all the hall aids and “rent-a-cops,” we can see how our school could have benefited from having an extra couple hundred thousand dollars of spending money.

If schools could come up with a means of isolating the unmotivated students from the motivated students, there could be more opportunities for the good students. There would be more opportunities for learning as well as funding for the education of these students. For the unmotivated students, there ought to be a program to help these students get their GED quickly.

I also want to bring up that there is a difference between bad students and special education students. Bad students are completely unmotivated and special education students have a difficult time learning. Bad students and special educated students often get grouped together. Bad students do not struggle with learning like special education students, because bad students do not even put forth effort. Special education students would not be penalized as long as they are putting forth the effort to learn, even if learning comes difficult to them.

I also must address the fact that Dr. Robert Weissberg is a bit racist. He describes that Hispanic and Black IQs, are not as high as those of Caucasians. I am not sure if this is a valid statistic; however, it is important to remember that it is not only skill that determines if one is a good or bad student. Motivation is the key factor. There can be bad students that are extremely intelligent which simply do not apply themselves. There may also be students that lack a bit in their ability to learn, but since they are motivated and try in school they can succeed in a “sink or swim” learning environment.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Making Technology in Education Efficient

By Sean Scarpiello

As technology is being implemented more and more in schools, teachers and administrators need to make sure that the technology is being used in the most efficient manner possible. Since a lot of money is being spent on the technology, teachers must be able to maximize its benefits by ensuring it helps the majority of their students. So when teachers receive these expensive pieces of equipment to utilize while teaching their classes, they need to know how to operate them to their full potential. This entails teachers going to workshops that show how to operate this new technology. Some schools across the US buy the technology, but don’t teach the instructors to use them properly. Therefore, some school districts do not see such an increase in learning.

If the teacher lacks the correct methodology for teaching with these new smart boards and I Pads, they will be useless for students. There are plenty of interactive technologies that are ignored by a lot of teachers. This is not on purpose, but simply because they are uninformed about the capabilities of these super-computers. Online labs for science courses are a great example of an overlooked means of teaching. While these online labs do not properly teach students firsthand how to use a microscope correctly, they will teach students how different molecules interact on a microscopic level. This ensures that students get a better understanding of topics like science, math, and even foreign languages.

The main point of these pieces of technology is to aid in students’ learning. Most students are visual learners and technology on the market today is perfect for these kinds of students. Many students cannot build concepts in their heads by just listening or reading something one time. By using technology, even something as simple as a video can improve students understanding of information. One example that I found that worked perfectly for me was when I learned how muscles work. I would read the process multiple times in the textbook and try to come up with a model in my head which still wasn’t perfect. At school, my teacher had some amazing software that had a 3D model of muscle tissue on the projector. The software enabled him to interact with the model and show us what happens when these cells contract. This software serves as an example to show how technology can be extremely useful as teaching aids.

One thing that educators must watch out for is technology that isn’t compatible with the way students learn. I recently spoke with a friend about his online math course that he was taking for community college. He described how some chapters of his lessons were extremely difficult because they lacked different diagrams and graphs that were pivotal in understanding the information. Upon completing the course, he felt that the program was designed well, but there were some things he would have done differently if he were creating the program. These kinds of things included adding more visuals and interactive activities that would make students think and find different ways to solve math problems.

In all, there are some school districts that feel that technology isn’t a prudent investment. They are putting down big bucks for the technology and simply do not see the results. In order for educators to get more bang from their buck they need to do more than pay for the equipment. They have to learn how to use it to its full capabilities, as well as implement it appropriately. As the entire world increasingly becomes more computerized, schools are significantly slower in this transformation. Is it safe to say this is because so many educators are ignorant of technology’s power and the correct methodology of using it and incorporating it into schools? Definitely.