Monday, July 30, 2012

Improving Education at Home

By Sean Scarpiello

As education professionals continue to invest large amounts of money into education, it is easy to forget about simple, cheap, and easy ways to improve the education of all students in the classroom. Many people in our world today focus only on the costs of cutting edge technology in the classroom as well as the high costs of transporting students and sustaining school districts. As parents attend school board and parent teacher organization meetings, many parents fail to realize that a high quality education starts at home.

When young students enter elementary school, they look up to their parents to see how they discuss and handle education. If parents take their children’s education seriously, then there is a good chance that the students will begin taking their education seriously. Parents need to become involved in their child’s education. Every night, parents can check their child’s assignment book and be up to date on the homework, tests, and projects which need to be completed. Another way for parents to stay involved is by reviewing each night’s homework assignment. This does not mean simply check it over after the kids are asleep. This means at a scheduled time each night, perhaps after dinner, go through each homework problem and make sure each question is correct with the student. If there are incorrect or blank questions, take some time to correct them and make sure that both the question and the correct answer are fully understood. Parents could also come up with their own examples based off of questions their children had difficulty with. This will allow students become more prepared in the future when they will inevitably be asked a similar type of question later.

This exact idea can be also be implemented with tests. If parents make a point to know when upcoming tests are scheduled, so will students. Parents can review the test material with their child and quiz them on questions which will be found on the test. Elementary school students are not at a point where they can read a chapter in a textbook and absorb all of the information. These students learn by doing; therefore, by asking questions which stimulate their minds, they will grasp the concepts and material easier.

Parents can also improve their child’s education by asking them about their day. Asking about their teachers, friends, classes, lunch, and other topics will give parents insight on the problems their children face on a day to day basis. This also shows children that they have a support system at home standing behind them all through life. Then, children will be more likely to seek help if they have a problem, whether it is in a math class or with a friend at recess.

One last easy way to improve a child’s education is by assigning them homework each day during the summer. They really won’t enjoy doing a worksheet of math and English every day during the summer, but in the long run it will ensure that they do not forget material over the summer. It again shows young students that their parents place a high amount of importance on education. This in turn pushes students harder in class and allows them to succeed.

In general, when parents stress the importance of a quality education, children will often follow suit. This method of improving a child’s education can be used in all types of school settings. Even as education is quickly becoming digitalized, parents can continue to encourage their children to do well. Teachers are also encouraging parents to become more involved because not only does it help the teachers out, but the students as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A New Push for Hands-On Learning

By Sean Scarpiello

The other day, I came across an article in the magazine “Fortune” on a new book which is challenging the ideas of traditional education. Harvard professor, David A. Kaplan’s book, Trusting What Your Told, looks at the way students are being taught and rethinks the ways to improve teaching. One of his overall ideas is to incorporate more hands on learning in the classroom and to have less structured instruction. He argues that students should be given the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered. How exactly will these ideas translate into the classroom?

Removing a lot of the structured curriculum mandated by the government in schools may sound like a terrible idea at first, but when we take into account what teachers could replace this time with, less structured time may be much better. If each class in school has a time devoted to simply asking questions, students may learn more. In addition, students’ interests may become peaked and they may find a passion for subjects in which they previously struggled. This, in fact, can end up boosting a student’s grade in the class. If teachers take 15 to 20 minutes at the end of each class to answer questions regarding all different areas of a subject, students may learn even more. If students do not have any questions, teachers can even come up with presentations that are thought provoking for students. Teachers also have the ability to look up the answers to many questions online and go over answers in class right as the questions are asked.

I myself would have liked the chance to be a part of such a program in school. For example, I had always found physics boring and tedious. However, if I had the opportunity to learn about the ground-breaking advances being made in advanced physics, I may have pursued the area. In classes like entry level physics, students are exposed only to the long formulas and intense amounts of math. If students were exposed to the topics advanced physicists are studying, such as string theory or faster-than-light speed, there would definitely be a growing interest among students.

One other idea I enjoy about Kaplan’s idea is that hands on teaching allows for much more learning. Currently, there is not much hands-on learning going on in schools. In my experience, I did not come into contact with hands on learning until my second year in college in Genetics class. On the very first day of this class, the professor handed out a worksheet with a pyramid of the different types of learning. At the bottom of the pyramid was memorization learning. At the top of the pyramid, there was analyzing, evaluating, and problem-solving based learning. This was the first class in my educational career where we were challenged to ask questions and evaluate our own questions. Also, all of us learned much more in this hands-on class than in other classes. This is because we were not being asked to simply memorize the material, but also put our knowledge to the test and work out problems. In addition, if students were exposed to more hands on learning earlier on in their education career, students would also develop critical thinking skills at a younger age. This would cause more students to not only be interested in certain subjects, but also be able to analyze and solve problems in these subjects at the same time.

In all, if education professions could implement some of Kaplan’s ideas into their curriculum, students would become much more adept in problem solving and critical thinking. Also, teachers would be able to motivate students to work hard in class by stimulating interest and introducing the interesting aspects of each subject being taught. Ultimately, this can lead to generations of students who are not only interested in the subject matter of courses, but also in learning.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Computers in the Classroom Controversy

By Sean Scarpiello

While technology continues to advance at such a fast rate in the United States, schools are struggling to keep up with these fast paced changes. So, many schools in the United States continue to invest in the newest and fastest computers and tablets. Most teachers, students, and parents feel that as technology changes in the real world it is only natural for technology to progressively move into classrooms. But while most education professionals support technology in education, there are still others which feel that all of the new integrative technology in classrooms will hinder students.

One of the major fears of education professionals is complete reliance on technology. Some believe that as computers are being used more and more in our everyday lives, that schools will eventually dismiss the old fashioned pencil, paper, and textbook. I feel that this is very unlikely. Young students will always need to be taught how to write legibly, spell, and read from books. Plus, everyone continues to use these basic skills in their daily lives. Since members in society continue to handwrite notes, and read newspapers or menus there will always be a need for these skills. One problem I can see with too much technology in classrooms would be that students can often become too dependable on computers. For example, students may become too accustomed to spell checking applications on computers. These dependencies can then resurface in handwritten notes where students forget how to spell certain words simply because spell check was always there to correct it in the past.

Other professionals feel that when students learn from computers, the technology turns learning into a game rather than a sequence of problem solving. This argument may hold some water; however, I think that it is important to make learning interactive and fun for the students. This then allows students who typically lose interest or become frustrated with learning to keep trying. No one ever said that learning needs to be a long and tedious process. In fact, if students enter school with a positive mindset and are anxious to learn because it is fun, then they may learn even more. When compared to a classic pencil and paper worksheet, worksheets on an iPad allow students to check their work and see not only what they answered incorrectly, but why they were wrong. Technological “worksheets” may also allow students who excel in an area to be challenged more, while giving extra support to those who struggle with certain material. Technology essentially allows for a more individualized lesson, where as traditional education can appear cookie-cutter or not as tailored to every student’s needs.

One last problem that too much technology can cause in classrooms is the lack of personal interaction. As I have stated in past blog articles, large amounts of technology can also breed hermits. While social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter connect us, they equally disconnect us as people. In general, I feel that most education professionals recognize this idea and are ensuring that curriculums are set up so that there are enough teacher-student and student-student interactions.

Ultimately, we can see that while there is opposition to computers in classrooms, there is a lot of support for technology well. This essentially allows us to conclude that there should be a steady balance of instruction from teachers and technology. Society should never reach a point where a class is completely individualized technology based or a completely cookie-cutter education. Education needs to find a medium between the two extremes and in the next few generations of students we will be discovering exactly what works with education and technology and what does not.