August 25, 2005

Very loud, very slow, very simple -- and very busy

More coincidences in my life out here on the prairie. First I read about Edward Tufte in the "Low-Tech Chic" (yup, that would me) article in Maclean's magazine. Tufte and other "modern Luddites" (yup, me again lol)
make a clear distinction between rejecting technology a priori and test-driving innovations with a critical eye. In his infamous screed [now, now] The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, [Tufte] explains how there's nothing particularly innovative about software that "routinely disrupts, dominates and trivializes content. PP presentations too often resemble the school play: very loud, very slow, and very simple."
A few days later I read, over at Daryl's blog, about first graders learning to use PowerPoint ("PPT is evil", August 22). And then Tuesday I found this little gem, about a recent project with first graders and fourth graders at the local public school, in our weekly rag (bold elements are mine, all mine):
Mrs. W., who teaches grade four, and Mrs. T., who teaches grade one, teamed up [last year] on a Special Interest Group Technology (SIGTel) project within the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Along with their students, they created an online project entitled Kid Dictionary: Enhancing Student Learning Via Global Communication. ...

"What started it is I have keypals over in Sweden, and when we first started this project, we'd been writing back and forth. My students sent 10 English words over the Sweden and they sent us back 10 Swedish translations," said Mrs. W. With those translations, students created the online Kid Dictionary Alphabet Pages, illustrated with clip art, and also used the translations to create a word wall. Four students took the project a step further and translated the words into a third language, including Afrikaan [sic], Chinese and Ukrainian. The Swedish words were proofread by Mrs. W.'s keypal in Sweden....

Mrs. T.'s grade ones were able to get involved with the project as well. "The grade one involvement was an extension of the grade four projects. In January, they (the grade fours) brought down whatever word they had up that month on the word wall and brought down a picture of it and taught the meaning of the word to one of my students. When the kids understood the word, we went together and they took my [grade one] students on the computers and peer taught them how to use Microsoft Word to type a sentence that had the word in it, to show that they understood the meaning, how to add a border to page, how to send it to the printer, how to save it under their own name, and then my students took the page they had produced back to our room and illustrated it and then we had our own word wall in our classroom that we displayed those on," said Mrs. T.

"It was really neat for my kids to get to work with the grade fours. It was really neat for them to be given some peer coaching on the computers, but I think the biggest benefit was for the grade four students. To watch those kids teaching the little kids, and the excitement that went on for them and to get to be the teacher for once, that was really neat, really powerful," said Mrs. T.
Really neat? Maybe, if you're intrigued by make-work projects and have nothing else you could be learning. But for Tom and me, it's just more reassurance that the simple, low-tech way is the best, and most powerful, choice for our first grader, who's been learning to read, write, and use a dictionary* the old-fashioned way.

*Webster's Elementary Dictionary: A Dictionary for Boys and Girls, 1945, with some lovely color plates; 50 cents and a bargain at twice the price from a garage sale

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