Tuesday, June 27, 2006

20 Lessons for Technology in Civics - TIE Session #8

This session was presented by two high school social studies teachers and was excellent. (One from Cherry Creek and one from Adams 12, but both previously from our district . . . hmmm . . .). They shared a wealth of activities using technology to help students learn civics and government. At the end they passed out a well-organized CD with all the activities included and links to all the resources - very impressive. I'll be making copies for all our government teachers and suggesting they spend a few hours looking through it.

I did have two concerns, though. First, they were very negative about Wikipedia. I talked to them afterward and asked them to think about the positive aspects of Wikipedia. I suggested it was a great place for students to start their research and was a great tool to help them think about how to verify that information was accurate. I also suggested if they had concerns about the information, a great way to deal with that was that when students found incorrect (or incomplete) information, have them go in and fix it. They seemed intrigued by that, but maybe they were just being polite!

The second concern was more broad. For most - if not all - of their lessons, they directed the students where to go for their research, and often had a template for them to use for their results. While I think guiding students is sometimes very helpful and necessary, I'm worried that guiding them all the time will leave them too dependent on an "authority figure" telling them what to do. After they leave formal schooling, will they have someone to tell them where to go to find information and then exactly how to present it? Or will they need to be able to operate independently - to find the information themselves and present it in a meaningful way - to be successful in the 21st century?

I think what we need is a mixture. At times we should give them some trusted sources to use and some models of what we want the results to look like, but more often we should expect them to find the information and decide how best to present the results. In the long run, I think that will be a much more valuable skill for them. The presenters kept referring back to "not having enough time to do that," so I think it's back to the age-old debate of covering content versus understanding. You guys all know where I stand on that one, but I think we need to find a good middle-ground, one that isn't so much designed for the adults' convenience but for the students' needs. If we "cover" all the curriculum but the students aren't interested and don't remember any of it, or if they don't have the skills to learn on their own in a rapidly-changing future, what exactly have we accomplished?

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