Thursday, March 01, 2007

Moodleing in Palm Springs

I am posting from Cue 2007. I have spent the last two days in a Moodle training session and though the actual conference has not started my head is already spinning. For those of you who may not be familiar with Moodle check out their web site .In short it is an open source version of Blackboard.

Last night as I reflected on my experience there were a couple of things that are worthy of note. First is one feature that is part of Moodle which was news to me. Within each course you can add a RSS feeder to enhance course content. This is a great feature for those of us determined to give student access to Web 2.0 and up-to-date information for their course of study!

The other issue I have been reflecting on is course design. As I struggled through my learning curve in trying to construct a course I found that the traditional elementary and middle school model of lesson planning was not well suited to this new tool. Don’t get me wrong you could put up a very traditional class but in my opinion to utilize its full capability you need to think outside the box. I have not fully thought out what this means but I have a few ideas that I think need to be examined. At the K-8 level lesson planning has always focused on daily objectives and in recent years with project based learning and essential questions there has been some movement toward looking at the bigger picture but I still believe that for the most part K-8 balks at the idea of syllabus and long range planning. The argument so often is the” teachable moment”, I can’t plan very far out. Okay I get that but I do not fully buy it. If we want kids to take charge of their learning we have to stop dishing out discreet portions and become facilitators of a bigger picture. I was trying to plan a lesson for seventh grade on the early history of Japan but how can I teach that without putting it in the context of Asia in general and modern Japan. No wonder students are not engaged and see their learning at disconnected and learn for the test. How much of the text is truly essential base knowledge? What is important? I am now more convinced than ever that we need to define power standards and focus on bigger chunks. To facilitate learning in a digital world we need to know exactly what is important for everybody ( the base knowledge) and where the students can have the freedom to explore and we must teach in context of the world in which we live. To put it bluntly for most 7th graders in our school the customs of early Japan are far removed from their lived experience and do not engage them. But they might be interested if Japan has a name and face … a connection with their world. They know about the Philippines so another connection could be are the development of these to island cultures the same and different?

We can only find time for this kind of exploration and learning if we have a clear idea of what is essential in the big picture otherwise we are tied to our textbooks, our daily objectives. and discreet bundles of knowledge which are soon forgotten after the test.

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Karl Fisch said...

Can you talk a little more about what you mean by "power standards?" I'm interpreting that to mean a much smaller set of truly important, "big picture" standards, but I wanted to make sure that's what you were intending to say.

We are talking about this a lot at my school, with some success but still fighting both the curriculum ("gotta cover all that content") and the testing ("yeah, but they don't print the 'big picture' results in the newspaper every year.")

As far as your Japan unit goes, I bet you (or the greater edublogosphere "we") could find some schools to hook up with there fairly easily . . .

Barbara said...

Karl...that is exactly it. And these big picture or maybe even essential standards are reflective of the school community. That is to say that while there might be some universality to which are power standards there is also a component driven by our unique student community profile.
We are also careful not to throw out the other standards but the power standards are the ones which receive depth and breadth of instruction.
With that said it is easier said then done. It runs into two road blocks. Cover it all and the other is interestingly the fact that it is hard to break being tied to textbooks. You have to think in different chunks to truly hit power standards.
This is an important discussion. thanks for continuing it.