The Digital Disconnect

October 26, 2007

I’ve been rolling around a question in my head for about the last six months. The basic question is: Is there a difference between how students and educators define technology? Really, what does a student consider technology? A computer? Probably not, they been using computers their entire life. The Internet? Once again it’s been there for them for most of their lives. Cell phones? I-Pods? I-Phones? When we express our desire to integrate technology into their classroom experiences are we talking our technology or theirs? Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear what students thought about our attempts to integrate technology?

I just finished reading a very interesting report entitled The Digital Divide: The Widening Gap Between Internet Savvy Students and their Schools. This report looks at the student side of Educational Technology. It attempts to hear the student’s voices about whether or not we are effectively utilizing the internet in schools. The report asks the students if they are using internet in schools, if not, why not? It also looks for the students to provide examples of effective integration of technology, and, in their minds, poor integration of technology.

The report finds that as expected our students are heavy users of the Internet. They regularly use it to complete homework assignments, collaborate on school work, research, communicate with peers, and gain access to information that is not readily available to them in school. The disconnect is that almost all of their use occurs outside of the school day. Why you ask? The students tell us it is due to a variety of reasons. First of all, access at school can is beset by barriers, such as slow computers, slow Internet, or stringent filters and firewalls. They also see teachers that don’t feel comfortable using the Internet, or don’t understand how to effectively use it in their classroom. Often the Internet assignments they get are boring and don’t leverage the power of the Internet.

The clear implication is that the students feel comfortable online, and want to use the Internet in their classrooms. They understand the benefits it can bring to education and are discouraged when their use is limited or blocked. In many cases their only chance to utilize the vast array of online resources is to wait until they get home. And clearly those students without computers at home are put further behind their peers that have access.

Reports such as this one make it clear that schools need to continue to grow their technology resources and expertise. We are not meeting the needs of the students in this area, and they know it.


The shortest route between Point A and Point B… Hey that’s not a straight line!

May 4, 2007

An excellent opportunity for you to merge Geography and Geometry in your lessons is to discuss Great Circles. Simply put great circles are circles that mark the shortest distance between two points along a circumference of a sphere (such as the Earth) . When trying to get from point A to point B on a sphere you need to take the curvature of the sphere into account in order to find the shortest path. This is done all the time in the airline industry to determine the shortest flight path. What it does do is distort the “straight line” when viewed on a flat map.

The web site Tall Eye can be a great tool to help clarify this concept. Tall Eye allows you to plot a straight line course between two points on the Earth. Basically it allows you to see what areas of the Earth you would pass through if you walked a straight line, in any direction, between two points. While this is sort of cool in and of itself, it becomes valuable to Geography and Geometry teachers when one looks at how the straight line gets represented on a flat map. It clearly is not straight. Any student using this web site probably will have the same reaction, Why? Your teachable moment has arrived.

Lets look at straight line due east from Massachusetts to Massachusetts.

Great Circle

If you want to see the full path here is the link.

This is a simple way to present a more complex issue in an engaging and interesting fashion using technology. Have your students examine how the circles change as you get closer to the equator or the poles. What happens to the curve as change the direction of your path? There are many opportunities for you to use Tall Eye to help your students make the connection between Geography and Geometry.

Quizlet – An online vocabulary study aid

March 23, 2007

 If you are looking for a tool to help your students study their vocabulary you might want to try QuizletQuizlet is a very simple free website that lets you create vocabulary tests based on words and definitions you provide.  You don’t even have to type them, if you have lists generated already you can upload them.   Once the words are in it allows your students to move through 3 steps, Familiarize, Learn, and Test.   It also allows them to print word lists and flash cards.  The tests are very nice and include spelling, true/false, matching and multiple choice questions.   Here is a link to an SAT vocabulary set you can try on your own.

As a teacher you can sign up for Quizlet for free and create your own vocabulary lists for practice tests, enrichment, and study aids.  When students access the tests it randomly creates an individual test for them.  Once completed it corrects their work and offers them the chance to take another randomly generated test.

Quizlet is a nice web site that is worth checking out.