Thursday, August 18, 2011

Friday, February 12, 2010


Ok, let me preface this by expressing that I have worked with children with special needs. It was my job for many a moon. I implemented behaviorist practices on a regular basis.

Behaviorism should not be thought of as an educational idea. Here is a succinct expression of behaviorism:

"Skinner’s(1954,1965) view of operant conditioning gave behaviorism new life in the middle of the 20 th century, especially as it pertained to school reading instruction. With this view of learning, a content area such as reading could be broken into steps, each of which could bet he basis for exercises in text or on a machine. Each element of an exercise required an overt response, which was followed by immediate feedback. When a student’s response was correct, the feedback was reinforcing. When the student responded incorrectly, the student was told to give another response until he or she got it right. Learning to read became the center of the activity, as researchers devised hierarchies of seemingly endless skills that were made up of subskills that themselves had subskills and so forth." (Lenses on Reading, Tracey, Diane H and Morrow, Lesley Mandel, 2006).

Because behaviorism does not have a capacity to evaluate or monitor intentions, it does not cause learning. One child I worked with was able to identify words and associate meaning with those words. He went through the motions of reading simple sentences, but was never able to progress. He could easily go through the motions of reading, but was unable to actually read in a meaningful way. Behaviorism would say that he should just practice more, that the act of going through it again and again would condition him to be able to read.

Obviously there is something more. Behaviorism is a great tool for managing behavior, but it should not be thought of as an instructional tool. You can create a circumstance where certain actions are completed by students, but this behavioral approach does not mean that any learning has taken place. You can force a child to do an assignment, but you cannot force a child to gain meaning from that assignment.

Behaviorism produces a behavioral result, not a cognitive one. BF Skinner was wrong, it's ok, let us move on.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Annie Dillard

I'm reading "The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard for a class on literacy. On one hand I think that this woman is crazy. She talks about some of the things which involved her during her times writing. The book is filled with anecdotes about her writing process. Essentially she establishes that writing is a process of goofing off interspersed with times of productivity. Maybe this is why authors always seem to be bi-polar to me. I spent a lot of time distancing myself from this author. Reading the stories of the bizarre things that happened to her while she was writing, I wanted to be away from that mentality. I wanted to be the voice of reason calling in the wilderness... Instead I find that I am more like the voice of wilderness calling from the land of reason.

I realize this because I am a graduate student. I am compelled to do what I need to do. Compelled might not be a strong enough word. There is always a gnawing agony in the back of my mind forcing me to push forward in my studies. I'm not usually this determined about things. I usually following things strongly for a week or two, then put them aside and relax my vigor. This is why I am mediocre at chess and computer programming. (Oddly enough, all my long-term obsessions rely on caffeine: Coffee and Tea.)

I have a ritual of avoidance that I follow before I do any real work on things that I need to accomplish. I play with my son, chase the cat and stare at the coffee pot for at least an hour or two before sitting down at my computer do do anything meaningful. The slightest gesture from my wife, be it a cough or a blink, can completely break my concentration and pull me from the world of academia.

On the other hand, when I start writing, my life becomes closed off. I wrote 2000 words of my intellectual autobiography in a half and hour. (I was supposed to be doing statistics.)

I am supposed to be doing statistics now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

GPL V3 in Civics and Economics

What would you do if communism worked? I'm not talking about political communism, but an idea that everyone holds everything in common. Theft would disappear complete, because the concept would be gone. Obviously, if you were good at building things, you would desire people know that you built it, right? But you wouldn't worry about people taking your stuff without need, right? Sure there would be a few greedy people in existence still, but they would be more like the grumpy miser on the end of town that people don't really like anyway.

Such a utopia could never work. Or could it? Imagine that you had a device that allowed you to replicate your work as many times as you wanted. You build a new oak cabinet, and this device replicates that cabinet as many times as you like. Then people would only need to ask you for one of your nice cabinets, and voila! Good thing that science fiction is true in some places, right?

Think kind of vague futuristic utopia does in face exist. The GNU, Free Software Foundation has created an environment where you can download, use and share software as you like. If you want to make something and give it away free, GREAT! If you want to make something and charge people to use it, awesome! If you think that a specific program should have some kind of functionality that it does not already have, then feel free to put it in there without concern from the original author. Usually you are asked, if you make changes, to share those changes with the community at large.

The Preamble of the GPLv3, linked here, sets up an environment of collaborative work in a very meaningful way. The document itself was created collaboratively and was allow to develop with input from the community.

Read the Preamble and discuss the following questions:

What does a copyleft license like the GPLv3 do to traditional closed licenses? Can a closed license and an open license exist in the same world? If all software were to exist under the GPLv3, what would happen to the economics of software development? Would companies be able to make money? Would companies, as such, still be able to exist?

What legal action has been taken with respect to the GPLv3? Do you think the Government could utilize something like the GPLv3 to encourage citizen participation?

If you were a lawyer, how would you attack the GPLv3? How could you defend it?

Monday, November 30, 2009

ECI 525 Meaning.

Preface: Why is this meaningful.

In this course I have gained tremendous insight into how a teacher can effectively present social studies ideas in a meaningful way. With tightening budgets and more restrictive school guidelines, teachers must become more creative in what they do to engage students. Teachers are seemingly competing with technology instead of incorporating it into their regular classes. Now we have many tools for incorporating different ideas into the classroom. Many of these ideas do not even require each of the students to have a laptop, but can usually be accomplished by an afternoon session in the computer lab.

21st century Video 8/24:
Diane Ratvich critiques the idea of 21st Century skills stating that this set of skills has no content associated with it. Skills by definition do not have content, but must none-the-less be taught. Note taking, for example, is nothing but a learned skill. It has no content, and can be used in any content. Some skills require content knowledge, such as being a skilled historian or skilled mathematician. Because a skill does or does not have an associated content does not make said skill important or not. I might even attempt to argue that skills without a content association are more important than skills directly associated with a content. You can see here that utilizing technology, as a skill, can increase the utility of a given lesson. Students can read material, given specific instructions on how to interact with the information, only to utilize technology to report their findings.
This type of activity requires that students know how to interact with technology, and allows the teacher to float around the classroom, checking for understanding. If one student is having difficulty with the text, he or she will be able to gain further assistance from the teacher without disrupting the entirety of the class.

Historical Soundscape 8/31
Many times teachers look at social studies from the point of view of one type of learner. The visual, intrapersonal or linquistic learner will find that the social studies lessons are easy to follow, while many of the other students have great difficulty learning the concepts. An activity that allows students to engage in material in a new way can be of great benefit to different types of learners. Creating a soundscape takes history out of the textbooks and puts it into a context of reality. If you ask students to recreate an event using only sound, what would it sound like? Would the students be able to record a variety of different sounds to simulate the original event? What would happen if you asked your students to explore an idea of local history through sound?
I examined the events surrounding hurricane Floyd in Tarboro, NC, 1999. You can hear the audio here. The exercise allowed me to look at the event of this flood in an entirely new light. I was able to feel like I witnessed the flooding first-hand. I was almost a thousand miles removed from the actual flooding, but through this experience I felt very close. Could the same work with the signing of the Declaration of Independence?

Illustrated Lincoln 9/14
When students look at an image, then typically seem to take a surface view of the image and move on. Partially this is learned behavior, and partially it's non-learned behavior. The learned part of this behavior is that the students have been spoon-fed ideas about images, or have been given interpretations and alternative ideas have been squelched. The non-learned behavior is that the students have not been given opportunities to learn how to appropriately interpret images.
If a teacher is able to use Werner's 7 ways of reading an image in a classroom, he or she then has a very valuable tool to scaffold the understanding and interpretation of various kinds of images. Students will be able to identify what is an open or closed image, and what can be inferred from that image. If you visit here, you will see an example of interpreting a historical image using the Werner readings. Many people can look at this image and take a surface view of what it represents, but using a 7-fold method of reading an image really helps the viewer to extrapolate a lot of meaning.

Historical Painting 9/21

Wikipedia and epistemology 9/28
When students look at Wikipedia, they often see a monolith of modern knowledge. As such, many students do not know what to do with this information. Presented here is a short overview of what one can do in order to make sure that a Wikipedia article is valid and useful. You'll have to make your own decision about if any encyclopedia is a valid source for most research papers, but Wikipedia is undeniably useful.
New Literacies and digital history design 10/05
History is moving towards a digital age. Never before have students been able to access so much information. Many sites offer primary sources with only a little bit of interpretation. These sites allow students and historians alike to engage materials in a new and meaningful way. Never before could students access such vast tracks of information. The problem falls when students cannot meaningfully access this information because of the format.
Our class took letters from the plantation letters website, and pulled out all the references to slavery. This task was able to be accomplished because we were able to essentially crowd-source the information. It was not a necessarily difficult task, students from different levels could easily accomplish it, but there is definitely a feeling of legitimate history taking place through this process. You can see the results here
Stagville Interpretation 10/12
We didn't just leave those references to slavery on the website, but we worked with them as well. In this forum we examined the historical information through the eyes of the SCIM-C technique. We were able to pool our information and gain increased understanding about the impact of the historical analysis we had done.
Hollywood film 10/19
Teachers often use film in the classroom. For this section, we collected clips that would enable students to experience something from history that is difficult to grasp through written word alone. For example, what did the Soldiers of Blackhawk Down do right? What did they do wrong? For my piece, I examined the sort of reverse propaganda that occurred after World War II. Soldiers returning home suffered many of the same difficulties that later soldiers faced, but they did not admit suffering in the face of adversity. The blog post here explores some of those feelings of difficulty and displacement.
Stagville on History Engine 11/02
The final portion of our evaluation of Slavery through the plantation letters was a culminating episode from one of the letters. I looked at the idea of casual affection through the case of one of Duncan's distant relations, Frances. An exercise like this has the feel of creating original research, as well as allowing the student to create a piece of historical analysis that may be used by others in the future. You can read my final assignment here.
Google Street View 11/09
Social Studies is not purely a study of history. Many students struggle with understanding geographic concepts. How does one region impact another? How does the location of one city influence its cultural design? In this thread, you can find my response where I examine downtown Mexico City and infer some ideas about this capitol city of our neighbor to the south.
Adventures in Early America 11/16
Social Studies is not all new historical enterprise, but also synthesizing learning in a new and meaningful way. IN this exercise, we examined Tony Horwitz latest book, and used his point of view to understand the progression of historical understanding. By Juxtaposing Horwitz with two previous historians, we can see how history has adjusted itself as our understanding has increased. Look here for and examination of Columbus, and you can go from there to explore more histories.
Tangents 11/30
Finally, continuing the idea that Social Studies is more than just History, I present an idea for incorporating the GPLv3 into a Civics and Economics class. Students are often steeped in the idea that economics are best rooted in capitalism, and that a share-and-share-alike idea would not work. The GPLv3 shows an instance where this communistic ideal is in existence, and even thriving. This kind of tangential exploration of content material is beneficial to both students and teachers alike. Students benefit by getting to explore new areas of their content, while teachers get to work with content that they like.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Designs for Democracy.

The website, Designs for Democracy Is an amazing tool for any American History or Government course. This site shows useful graphics, from hull design of ships, to boot innovations. There is even a design for a card including some of the founding fathers. (And you thought the monetizing of political figures is a new idea... Silly goose.)

Classroom integration can be very interesting for this site. The focus is on Democracy and it's development, which does not just include political action, but also private action. Without the private sector supporting democratic ideals, the government could have never gained traction.

Overall, this is a great site for use with middle to high school students, and I'm sure even lower grades could benefit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009