Distance education: bringing the Mr. Petlak Classroom Experience Worldwide?

I have been travelling the #edtech world for several years, and here’s what I’ve seen:


All the tools presented and proposed in this class are actually a bit overwhelming! There are so many options and yet what feels like so little time to experience all of them. The clock is ticking as I consider how to deliver content in my AP Biology course synchronously as soon as next school year for Prairie South Schools (and SunWest doesn’t offer this, yet! I’ll be a hot commodity). In our meeting October 25th, Jade Ballek mentioned that SunWest even offer classes to international locations such as China… how do they receive funding for this? Do they receive a tuition from Chinese students (what is listed is $500 on the website)? Do they charge more to international students?

Can I use this?

A colleague/friend of mine, Jeff Boulton, mentioned the potential of offering distance education privately. At $500/student, could I offer a Biology course to 10 students for $5000? And could I even have this class programmed asynchronously so it basically funds me once I complete my initial prep work? And if it’s asynchronous, with automated marking programs, couldn’t I manage well over 10 students?

Money? Interesting.It is here that we reach our quandary. Do we sell our educating soul?

chappelle cash gif.gif

Chappelle Swag via Giphy

I possess the ability to offer education to individuals worldwide and potentially receive money to do so. Should I? Would you? Based on my principles and beliefs related to open education and how learning should unfold, I should make my content and work free, which I have, but if I were to actively record instruction and create lessons to educate students worldwide, do I take a “small handout or reward”? Is it okay to?

It’s important to note that I believe that every individual deserves an education… so perhaps the solution lies in equity, with affordability to those who can’t and collection from those who can to promote my use and production values?

All these questions aside… can I even replicate the Logan Petlak Classroom Experience online? Is the educator I am on a screen the same as that face-to-face? I would argue probably no. Not without active discussion and interaction with students. That’s my favourite part of teaching, getting to work and talk with as well as read and respond to students… is that gone in the distance classroom – even with synchronous sessions (perhaps offered via Zoom)? And does this lend itself to more direct instruction? What about the socialization of being on campus and engaging with other students in the classroom? Many sources will tell you that a cons to distance education is a lack of “student to teacher face time” and “no social interaction”.


Digital citizenship: fostering a digital presence and creating a networked learning community. And from that networked learning community, perhaps presents opportunities to collaborate with professionals from around the world to invite to contribute to class sessions (Adam reminded me of this idea with Skype).

This stuff you’re teaching Alec is starting to take shape more and more, day by day!

What are your thoughts? Does distance education present an opportunity for us as educators to earn beyond our negotiated salary? Do we as educators have a moral obligation to simply provide instruction to all and do this in the most cost-effective way possible?

– Logan Petlak

Stop villainizing the internet.


Productivity by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

“Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?  Has the Internet created a world of ‘multitaskers’ who don’t accomplish as much as they could have without it?”

Internet enhances productivity and connectivity.

Pound for pound, we are exposed to more information and ideas than any point in human history. The internet and wireless connectivity is to thank for this. Can it be overwhelming? Undoubtedly. Does it pose the potential of distraction? Certainly. But this glass half-empty nonsense fails to appreciate the depth of opportunity that the internet provides us with. Ultimately, it has the power to increase productivity. It makes us capable of accumulating a greater knowledge-base, organizing that content, requiring us to think critically about said knowledge-base, and network with others on the topic, be it independently (through MOOCs) or in the school setting.

How we as educators utilize this?

I love PowerPoint. While some evidence may dictate that PowerPoint in excess isn’t successful, I would question the parameters of the testing. I use PowerPoint as a organizational visual for a wide variety of instructional strategies. It can describe to students how to do a reading strategy for an article, it can incorporate pictures into content, build foundations for Screencasting or flipped classrooms as well as provide steps for group or lab work. I can ask meaningful questions to the class but cater to the learner who might understand it better by reading the question… or collect and organize information from students and provide copies to those that have missed. The program, and others like it, all serve this purpose and, when used appropriately and alongside YouTube and search engines, enhance instruction and outcome achievement in students.

In a Science 9 classroom, I have the opportunity to feed inquiry and answer the questions of my students right before their eyes. I don’t simply provide an answer, but also show them how learning can grow and extend into new learning as I ask new questions to allow the pursuit of knowledge to grow. And I keep the tabs open to show how we went from one idea to the next. Ex. Mitosis -important parts of what’s copied?-> Nucleus -contains information, as what?-> DNA – there’s something similar to DNA?-> RNA – what has RNA in it?-> Viruses -Example of virus?-> E. Bola –> can E. Bola affect us in SK?

That is what students learn in a classroom with PowerPoint and a visual of how their instructor utilizes the internet and wireless connectivity to learn… and it models proper use of devices that extend this learning to anywhere they are… or communication with experts, opinions and facts from around the world.

A friend shared this video on Facebook the other day (Holly shared a post about the School System by the same individual, Prince Ea), and the pro-tech and social media-using individual in me actually got rattled by the assumptions in this video. Prince Ea is very poetic and engaging individual but I feel his take on this is very much the negative side of the range of connectedness we have today. Literacy rates have increased substantially since the advent of increased global connectedness in the past fifty years, and while I believe he may feel we are more distracted, I would be inclined to disagree.

Reminded me of our discussion regarding how we commonly villainize changes, presentation media, the internet and we may fail to appreciate the “new normal” or “changing humanity”. Any thoughts? Are we really more disconnected now than ever or do our devices help us connect even better now than ever before?

– Logan Petlak

Tabless Thursday…I mean Sunday

Oh my…did this week’s blog topic ever come at a fitting time!  I have contemplated the idea of multitasking quite a bit over the past year.   A couple of semesters ago I read this article about busyness and the importance of doing less.  I vowed to “do less” in an attempt to be more productive.  Well the idea is great in theory, but then the reality of working full time and taking a full time course load hits.  It isn’t an option to “do less” when your to-do list is a list of “must dos”.  Believe me, my “want to do” and “should do” lists have already been erased…I would upload a picture of my messy house or the fact that I’m still in my PJs to prove my point…but that might scare you.

Getting sick this week hasn’t helped the completion of the to-do list and I’m finding now that my Sunday has become a, “run around like a crazy person, trying to do 15 things at once, in an attempt to get caught up” day.  I stand by my original thought that multi-taskers are really poor at multi-tasking and James Hamblin seems to agree.

“Am I developing some sort of inability to focus because I never focus on things?”-Hamblin

I have asked myself this question many times since starting my grad studies and I think in my case, it holds a lot of validity.  As a write this post, I have 9 tabs open and that seems quite low comparatively to other times that I am “working” on my laptop.  Just as Hamblin suggests, I sit down to write a paper and somehow within a half hour, often sooner, I have been lead down the rabbit hole of the internet and suddenly am finding the “best banana bread recipe ever!”  My never-ending to-do list isn’t getting done, and my stress level increases.  For this reason, I think that the internet has the potential to be more of a distraction tool than a tool which leads to productivity.

I think that the internet can and does lead to productivity, but the idea of multitasking presents a barrier to such productivity.  Jim Taylor suggests that what we view multitasking as, is actually serial tasking.  Taylor suggests:

“Rather than engaging in simultaneous tasks, you are in fact  shifting from one task to another to another in rapid succession.  For example, you switch from your phone conversation to a document on your computer screen to an email and back again in the belief that you are doing them simultaneously. But you’re not.”

I am a serial tasker, not a multitasker.  I try to convince myself that I am being more productive juggling multiple tasks at once, but my stress level says otherwise.  So in an attempt to eliminate my to-do list and reduce my stress…I am going to attempt Tabless  Thursday Sunday and single task for the remainder of the day.

Here is my to-do list for the rest of the day…yes, I recognize I think I am super-human and can get this all done…

-write #eci833 blog post
-read/comment on #eci833 blogs
-finish #eci833 group presentation slides
-create #eci833 twitter chat visuals
-write ed800 addendums
-do ed800 readings
-finish grade 2 math rubrics
-write grade 2 patterning comments
-find Remembrance Day art/writing projects
-revist today’s blog post about how well my day of “single-tasking” went

Oh, and I’ll try to eat a real meal in there somewhere, but not while doing any of the above tasks.  Remember Erin…single tasking only!

Stay tuned to my post this evening regarding how my Tabless Sunday went!

Productivity and the internet – or lack therof

In deciding which productivity and presentation tools to focus on for our presentation we knew we had to include the internet in our discussion. After all it is one of the biggest productivity tools in our modern day society isn’t it?

The truth is that the internet is one of the greatest tools in terms of getting things done. I can access information, shop, read and watch videos anytime anywhere with the use of the internet. I can send an email in a matter of minutes making it an efficient way to communicate and connect. Can’t get to a phone while at work? No problem, I can most likely email the person I am trying to get a hold of instead. There are countless ways that the internet improves productivity including mobility, inspiration, knowledge, networking, organization and recreation. However, as with many things there is a down side.

The downside is that the internet provides a wealth of information, connections and ways to “kill time” which creates distractions from the task at hand. As one author on lifehack put’s it,

Getting information from the net is like getting a cup of water, sitting under the Niagara falls. We certainly get a cup of water, the problem is that we also get far more than we need. – Tejvan Pettinger

The internet provides a vast amount of information which can be an amazing thing, but it can also be our biggest enemy. I’m sure you’ve found yourself frantically going back and forth  between multiple tabs checking social media, news and random websites that you’ve come across never really accomplishing much more than going in circles. If for some crazy you reason you don’t know what I’m talking about I’ll let James Hamblin explain.

The idea of #tablessthursday is one that I personally find to be a great idea. We are a society of multitaskers, however it has been proven over and over again that when we try to do two, three…or 10 things at once we are less efficient than if we focus on one task at a time. Why do you think distracted drivers get into so many accidents?

Amy wrote a great post reflecting on how often she finds herself multitasking, not just while using the internet, but while cooking, getting kids ready or just thinking. As humans, it seems to be natural for our minds to wander and to have it running 100 miles a minute. From a very young age we have been training our brains to focus and pay attention to the task at hand. This seems to be increasingly difficult to do as we have so many distractions from social media, the internet, tv, radio etc. etc.


Photo Credit: rishibando Flickr via Compfight cc

So how do we combat the constant urge to multitask? The answer…mindfulness. We need to be conscious of the way we are managing our time and the number of tasks we are trying to accomplish at a time. There a number of ways that we can combat multitasking and start single-tasking. One suggestion is to start by making one small change. This can be as simple as not checking emails during breakfast and focus on eating the foods that are nourishing your body. Do you find yourself checking Facebook when you should be working? Try a website blocker such as Cold Turkey to help you block these distractions.

Photo Credit: danielfoster437 Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: danielfoster437 Flickr via Compfight cc

The internet is certainly a productivity tool in my life. I am able to connect with people more efficiently for work, I can shop, I can find resources and activities for school and the list goes on. I don’t think that we can say that the internet isn’t a productivity tool. It most certainly is, but when we use it with no focus it can quickly become a big waste of time. We need to be conscious of what we are doing and minimize distractions by focusing on one task at a time. We like to think that multitasking is helping us but you might want to read why single tasking will make you smarter before you continue to attempt multitasking.

I find that with so much on the go I am getting better at single-tasking. I need to make use of my time wisely and I have found that multitasking doesn’t work for me. I make a list, use website blockers and set my phone aside to help keep me on track. What are some ways that you attempt to be more productive while using the internet? I’d love for you to share in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Vintuitive Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Vintuitive Flickr via Compfight cc

Educational software is changing for us, and us for it.

Snapchat-Based Reflection

Educational Software & Media
Snapchat – Not a conventional educational app – but in terms of responsible use of media and digital citizenship.

Perception vs reality and impacts on education:
Perception – it is a distraction in school OR it is an amazing way to connect with friends and others. Life is more disconnected than ever: Prince Ea: Can we auto-correct humanity
Reality – it IS a distraction BUT it is an incredible opportunity to enhance connectedness between students. I would argue students are better connected now than ever – we can share and observe others lives together. (Connect to Distance Ed) later.

Proponents, opponents, and adopters of these technologies:
If you’re against it, you do not enjoy the distraction of it in classes.
If you adopt it, you’re using it to connect with students.

Effects positive and negative on teaching and learning:
Positive – warm and energetic atmosphere.
Negative – can decrease engagement if not patrolled.

Pedagogical advantages and disadvantages:
Advantage – it keeps us fresh on what is a large part of many of our children’s development.

Disadvantage – it can be a vehicle for abuse, harassment, and as previously mentioned a distraction.

Education is always key – rather than fear and taking things away because we aren’t familiar or can’t control them… educate yourself and others on its use so that you can help them use it responsibly. I’ve observed the use of Kahoot and it seems positive, while the energy that is created as a result may have some short-term management implications a distraction, like Snapchat… and it may not meet the needs of ALL learners – it engages many of them.

Tell me you aren’t feeling more connected to me because of the adorable kittens.

Reflecting on educational software and media in general

Educational software is constantly evolving so as assessment and teaching practices change and become more inclusive of all learners, so too will the educational media to accommodate the demands of educators.


Snapchat is NOT a conventional educational media/software. But it is a form of media that requires education. And the learning inherent within the roots of Snapchat (connecting with others over distances) has positive implications. When we look at the opportunities presented by distance education, the term “disruptive change” rears its head, almost as terrifying as “transformational change”. While sounding negative, disruptive change can be an encouraging as it may disrupt the normal constraints of the four-walled classroom. Personally, I get an opportunity to offer a course through distance education in our division next school year and this presents a lot of challenges and potential. This extends to many educational technologies, but most importantly, in my eyes, is that it poses opportunities for learning that are not limited to classroom walls.

That being said, there are inherent values imposed by new apps that are created, like Snapchat: “why do you need to take pictures of everything you do”? Once again: opportunity. Chance at critical thinking when engaging in online media. A favourite sarcastic quote in my classroom is: “the internet said so, so it must be true”. Which is an encouraging comment… but we see the two-headed dragon of this being that fact (peer-reviewed articles) can be misinterpreted as potentially inaccurate and that only your interpretation and beliefs of the content are much more plausible. It’s okay to synthesize an opinion from various forms of content, but what happens when what is most likely right is taken with too much doubt or discounted as not credible because other sources aren’t?

Educational software and will continue to evolve to meet our needs. As professionals it is paramount we stay up to speed on new means to meet the needs of new learners: changing ourselves to better utilize programs which continue to evolve alongside our evolving educational selves.

Agree or disagree?


Logan Petlak

The new tools of our trade?

I want to start by saying hats off to my peers, Amy, Krista, Luke, Elizabeth and Rochelle who presented on the topic of educational software and media. I have to admit that although I am familiar with a lot of different great software and media tools I don’t often integrate them into my classes (insert red embarrassed face here). I can’t say for sure why I haven’t integrated the tools in my classes yet, but a big part of it is the fact that I was out the classroom on mat leave all of last year, so having just been back to work for a month and a half I still feel as thought I’m adjusting to the new routine. When I’m talking about not using the tools, I guess I’m talking about tools like Kahoot, Socrative, Quizlet or Explain Everything. I do use other media in the classroom so I will talk about the tools I do use as well as touch on some of the tools I have spent some time exploring in hopes to integrate the into my classes in the future.

One of the tools I use is Edmodo. I enjoy using Edmodo for a variety of reasons. The first is because the interface is similar to Facebook and students so it’s easy to navigate and students feel the same way. One of the biggest benefits is the increased level of communication between students, parents and the teacher. I’ve made a screen cast of my Edmodo page that takes you through some of the features as well as discusses some of the pros and cons of using Edmodo.

I have some EAL students in my class and they spend time working with a language app called Duolingo. I was introduced to this last year when I used it to try and learn some Italian. It has a gaming feel to it and makes learning fun, but the quality of the learning isn’t the best. I used it a lot, but I wasn’t able to actually remember or recall much of the language when I wasn’t using the app or website. To get a feel for how the program works check out my screencast from when I did my post-assessment. During the video you will hear the chime when I respond correctly and a green banner appears. Duolingo is very stimulus-response based lending itself nicely to the behaviourism theory. When I played it was really motivating and the game like features kept making you come back. You can earn badges, points and your progress is tracked making it rewarding to play and learn. The downside to the app is that although there is a lot of repetition it doesn’t allow for deeper connections and learning. To truly learn a language I believe you must converse with people using the language and Duolingo doesn’t provide these types of interactions. Users may chat with others on a forum, but there is no opportunity to speak with others and practice.

Duolingo is a great tool for EAL learners to get additional practice as it is engaging and fun. In order for students to practice outside of the classroom, students need to have access to the website or app. This makes it difficult for students who don’t have access to technology to practice when they are not at school. As a mentioned above, the app itself is not enough for students to master a language, but it is helpful. Language Surfer provides a great list of ways to get the most out of Duolingo and most of them go beyond just playing “the game”. Students who use this need to go beyond the app by writing down new word they learn on paper, writing sentences that they struggle with, reading the hints given by the program and working with others to practice speaking the language they are learning.

Other tools that I have explored for past classes with Alec are Socrative and Explain Everything. Socrative allows you to create quizzes and use exit slips to assess student understanding. I don’t think I would use this tool for summative assessment purposes but I see it as a great tool to get some feedback of learning throughout the unit. Students need to have access to computers, tablets or phones in order to participate so it is difficult to use in a classroom like mine where some students don’t have a phone. I feel like getting computers for everyone would be a lot of hassle to complete a short exit slip or a quiz that will give me some feedback. It is much easier to do a paper exit slip and have students complete it…however not as fun. Explain Everything is an interactive whiteboard app and I have thought about using it in my math classes. I see students using it to walk me through a question while they explain the steps they are using to solve the problem. I see it as an excellent tool to evaluate deeper understanding however it takes time for students to learn how to use the tool so that is something that would need to be considered before it is used in the classroom. You can check out my youtube channel to find the video tutorials I have created for both Socrative and Explain Everything. The videos will give you a better idea of how they work if you are wanting to learn more about them. A few classmates have included great reviews of Plickers and Seesaw; both tools seem beneficial in their own ways. Be sure to check out Plickers as reviewed by Liz and Seesaw as reviewed by Erin (great job guys!).

As I stated earlier, I tend to stay away from many of these question-response type tools because I don’t see a whole lot of value in them for the amount of time it takes to implement them. I do see it as a fun way to review and see the value in using these tools to differentiate the teaching methods. How often do you use these tools? Can you sell me on the value of these tools? I’m not saying I will never use them, but I don’t see myself using them on a regular basis…but maybe I should? Are these the new tools of our educational trade?

A tool within my toolbox

Seesaw is an educational media tool that I implemented into my teaching last year.  I explored and implemented Seesaw into my teaching practice as part of my Major Digital Project within #eci831 last Winter.  Here is a video summarizing that experience:

Seesaw is a student driven, e-portfolio program.  It allows students to document their learning in a variety of ways.  Seesaw allows students to “show what they know”, emphasizing the learning process as well as the final product.  Students use iOS or Android devices to take pictures, videos, or create drawings of their learning.  Students can also combine the features (i.e. take a photo of a non-fiction page and describe the text features by drawing on the image and recording their voice explaining what text features are evident).  There are endless opportunities when using Seesaw.  Several ideas, tips, tricks, and tutorial videos can be found at the Seesaw Help Center and from the Seesaw community on Twitter. Here is a quick video introducing parents to Seesaw journals:

Teachers have been using e-portfolios to demonstrate learning for many years.  The image of “traditional portfolios” make look a little more like this however…

prtfolioPhoto Credit: School House Christian Preschool

Seesaw is a 21st century version of the binder or scrapbook portfolios.  Seesaw has several positive effects on teaching and learning that the previous styles of portfolio may have lacked.  Seesaw allows students to capture their learning in a variety of ways.  Students are also able to share the learning process and document their growth throughout a school year.  The app is very user friendly for young students and students can upload their content independently.  Seesaw helps students develop 21st century skills and practice digital citizenship in a teacher-moderated, safe space online.  Students have an authentic audience and they learn to reflect on their own work. The app also breaks down the four walls of a classroom and allows parents to have a glimpse at their child’s days at school.

I am definitely a proponent of using Seesaw to document learning, but in the efforts to look at the tool critically, I suppose there could be negative effects on teaching and learning.  Because Seesaw is an online tool, there are privacy risks associated with using the tool.  Seesaw goes to great lengths to protect the privacy of students, and as a result, has all setting defaulted to private.  Teachers can then choose to invite parents to view the learning journals.  This is a safe space in the sense that the student, parents, and teacher are the only ones that can view the content but parents do have the option to share their child’s posts through other social media platforms.  If a parents chooses to share an artifact from the learning journal on his/her Facebook account, he/she may be compromising the child’s privacy.  But to keep things in perspective, I’m not sure there is much risk in posting a child’s reading fluency or explanation of a math strategy online.

Access is another issue to make note of when considering whether or not to implement Seesaw journals into your teaching. Even if the child has access to a device to use within the school, some parents may not be equipped with a device to view his/her child’s learning journal.  This student would still be able to reflect on his/her own learning within school but his/her audience would be reduced by the parents’ lack of access at home.  If all other students have involvement from parents through the commenting feature, the child who doesn’t have parental involvement may feel discouraged.

I personally feel that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  Seesaw has allowed me to support my students in sharing and reflecting deeply on their learning.  In one of this week’s suggested viewings, Mark Zuckerberg spoke to educational software.  He claimed that there is potential for people to now make great “socially designed products”.  I view Seesaw as just this…a socially designed product to document learning.  It brings learning to life and makes assessment authentic.

Have I won any of you over yet?

The digital life of a teacher-entertainer.

In this ever-evolving  understanding of teaching and learning, educators are constantly on the run from “traditional schooling”, constantly bombarded with news mean to fight the factory education model they are still enclosed within. Teachers, forever exposed to new means of instruction, the new rights, the new wrongs, the new device, and in the case of Sesame Street: the new songs.

Sesame Street Songs (Then and now)


In a classroom?

Not allowed.

Unless your students are part of a generation with higher cases of ADD needing various forms of engagement to aid in learning (In this writer’s opinion, higher cases of ADD are strictly due to larger and more accurate amounts of testing).



Our students are a part of this generation. They need interesting and engaging delivery of content to enhance learning. Not to say it hasn’t been present before, I just think the world is far more engaging than it ever was. Which is why we, as educa-entertain-tors have to compete with the shows we were raised on and then some. New types of entertainment change comes with our handheld devices and while individual perception of change varies, some welcome it, some resist it, the fact is media, television, and devices are always changing. Therefore, to stay competitive, we have to stay on top of our game. Sift through the resistance to BYOD, get your hands on some additional devices for those who don’t have them, and get on the same level as every other source of entertainment your student is exposed to. I don’t mean to discount evidence that indicates BYOD can be bad for learning , but much like shows of the past, learning can still be had from devices and programming, because we watched these shows.


A personal favourite of mine from youth. “Pinky and the Brain” via Looney Tunes Wikia

Even if standard achievement scores went down, there is learning that occurs beyond the ways we measure it. Natalie’s take  on the work of Neil Postman reminded us that: “He indicates that Sesame Street is a series of short commercials meant to entertain that uses puppets, celebrities and catchy tunes.  This is true.”

But why isn’t entertainment considered learning?

Kids don’t always learn the way we want them to, but there still are provided with ways to learn through the apps, social media, and games they play. Apps allow our students to connect with each other, face to face. Apps are reinventing the depth of relationships we may have had before with increased exposure to socialization and different experiences and cultures. Many games are problem-based, objective-completing activities that provide descriptors and feedback on their work. Consistent with that of the classroom but not with the content we would prefer. But can it go wrong? We can observe the history of the learning channel and see the defamation of the “educational program” over the years, and Krista Gates mentions that the shows are not as educational as they once were. But they are just as entertaining, and when I enjoyed the learning that I was exposed to on television, I enjoyed learning.

Sounds like a connection.


Television, apps, and devices are fun.

Television, apps, and devices are entertaining.

Television, apps, and devices are engaging.

Engagement leads to learning.

Learning should be engaging.

Learning should be entertaining.

Learning is fun.


Thoughts? Disagree? Am I simply brainwashed by the collection of television I’ve been exposed to over the years? Is my naive optimism the product of every show I’ve ever seen where a cartoon character made a joke or managed to smile in a bad situation? I’d like to this so.

Logan Petlak

Entertaining Education

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week reflecting on Postman’s quote regarding Sesame Street and education. Like Andrew it was a little hard for me to think of because I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with educational tv growing up (at least not that I can remember). This is something that made me think more about my own children and their exposure to educational television. I decided to look into Neil Postman’s quote and found that he provides several reasons why parents embraced Sesame Street. He begins with a very important point and it’s something that I can relate to as a parent.

“Sesame Street” appeared to justify allowing a four- or five-year-old to sit transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time. 

After reading Naomi’s post and some of the comments that follow, it is easy to see that I’m not the only parent who may be able to relate to this. I too have allowed my children to watch Baby Einstein and it started at a very young age. I remember putting my son into his exersaucer and turning on Baby Einstein so that I could blow-dry my hair, or change a load of laundry. It’s difficult when you are the only parent home and trying to run a household with a little one who doesn’t nap when you need them to. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I don’t think that it’s a terrible thing if we let our kids watch tv, or shall I say use the tv as babysitter as long as we aren’t going overboard.

How do we know how much is overboard though? I was surprised when I read some of the stats on how long children watch tv in a week as provided in the first chapter of “Children’s Learning From Educational Television: Sesame Street and Beyond.” It was interesting to read about some of the negatives such as behaviour issues that may arise due to increased tv time. In response to some of the negatives that may arise due to increased tv time, the American Academy of Paediatrics suggested that total tv time should be limited to 1-2 hours per day and eliminated completely for children under the age of 2. I sure hope no one from the American Academy of Paediatrics comes over to my house while I’m trying to get supper ready, or finish my work, or do anything that needs to be done while the kids are awake. That being said, is that ALL my kids do? Of course not! My kids are great at make believe play and entertaining themselves, but I do allow them to watch tv daily with limits.

A big hit in our house is the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Jr. When I first saw the show I was quite impressed with the educational value of it. Commonsense Media gave one episode that we have on DVD a 3/5 stars for educational value. I was a little surprised to see it didn’t rate higher. One thing I really like about each episode is the use of “Toodles” and the “Mousketools”. The mousketools are a set of tools that will be used to solve a problem throughout the show. The kids are asked to problem solve and think critically about the tool that will need to be used to solve the problem. Check out the clip below to see how Toodle works. In addition to Toodle it does teach counting, colours, shapes and social skills.

Postman also suggested that parents felt Sesame Street took care of the education side of things in the household. This is something that I can see in tv shows as well as apps and computer games. Although educational tv does teach some skills, it cannot be the only way that our children are learning at a young age. We need to work with our children to develop reading, writing, critical thinking and math skills.

“Sesame Street” relieved them of the responsibility of teaching their per-school children how to read.

We cannot expect our children to learn everything they need to learn from an app or tv show. We need to read to our children, talk to them about money, count things, look for patterns, discuss rules of the road…I could go on and on about the little things that we can do that will make a big difference in our children’s educational lives.

Postman finishes by stating that

We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street”. Which is to say…[it] undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.

I can agree with this point to a certain extent. I believe that educational tv, apps and games contribute to the lack of attention that some children seem to have. From a very young age our children are stimulated by these tv shows and games. They find them fun, entertaining and enjoyable. I do think it may develop expectations in these young children about what learning looks like. As Benita mentions, it’s hard to compete with stimulating games and tv shows when students come into our classroom and it’s exhausting to think about Teaching Like a Pirate. I think we all struggle with making ALL learning fun and to be honest I don’t know if that is realistic. However, realistic or not I think it is something that we need to strive for. Do we need to tell jokes, dance, juggle and put on a show? Of course not! But we do need to engage our students and be excited about what we are teaching. If we are excited about what we are teaching, our students will be excited to learn the material.

Am I being too harsh? Is it realistic to think that everything we teach (or learn) can be fun? What happens as we move through our schooling into post-secondary education or onto meetings in our careers? Is there a point that is reached in which learning is no longer fun?

Technology is an Ally, Not an Opponent

We engaged in some interesting conversation this week with Katia regarding educational television.  Like Tyson, I have memories of learning to tell time with Lunette…

and meeting together as an entire elementary school to watch Book Mice on a TV rolled into the multi-purpose room.  Any one else have the privilege of enjoying this gem?

In the recent past and into the present, today’s children have before them a myriad of educational television programs to engage with.  Baby Einstein, Dora, The Wiggles, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, amongst many others, are shaping our children.  These programs undoubtedly are teaching our children, but does this come at a cost?

Postman wrote:

“…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.”

When reading this quote, I believe that Postman is addressing the fact that educational television can hold the engagement of young ones for long periods of time.  We’ve all seen those “go-go-go” children become entranced once the TV is turned on or when Mom or Dad hand over the Iphone and turn on Netflix.  Suddenly a high-wired child is still and engaged in a television program because of the high visually appealing experience.  Children are engaged and learning things like letter sounds, numbers, and languages when watching these shows but is the context in which they are learning them having an impact on their ability to learn in “traditional ways” once in school?  Does learning from a screen at an early age inhibit their ability to learn face to face with their teacher or amongst peers once in school?

My initial thoughts are no, but I do second guess this.  At times within my grade 2 classroom, I feel like I am exuding insane amounts of energy and enthusiasm, delivering content in creative ways or facilitating students in cooperative, participatory learning.  Some students still seem disengaged.  I can relate to Benita’s post where she refers to a PD session with author of Teach Like a Pirate, David Burgess.  Benita explained that Burgess believes you engage students by teaching outrageous…yelling, laughing, and making teaching fun.  I feel that I teach in this silly, outrageous way a lot of the time, but if I did this constantly, I would drop dead of exhaustion.  This makes me question…is it that students can only be truly engaged through either stimulating educational television programs or outrageous teaching?  I worry if this is the case.

We were also asked this week to consider the current culture of smartphones and the push towards BYOD and the integration of smartphones in classrooms?  I think that BYOD integration within schools definitely goes against the traditional format of school, but I argue that this isn’t a bad thing.  Whether we like it or not, the reality is that we’re teaching students who are digital natives.  According to Marc Prensky, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”  AV technologies, such as apps and interactive educational shows likely do go against the “the traditional idea of schooling” (Postman), but maybe that’s exactly what we need to do….we need to go against the traditional idea of schooling.

I struggle with engaging my students without technology in a way that draws them in like technology does.  Technology clearly engages my students so maybe I need to use elements of technology to engage, to hook, and to enhance understanding.  Maybe I also need to examine what is is about technology that appeals to children, and transform more of these elements even into my teaching practice, even when technology isn’t utilized.  Is it the connective capabilities that draws students in?  If so, I can easily tap into this through other non-tech avenues.

In Roxanne’s post this week she mentioned how teachers vying for the attention of their students are always in competition with technology.  When dealing with a generation of digital natives, I feel that technology is always going to win if we view it as competition.  I think we need to start viewing technology as an ally, not an opponent.

opponentPhoto Credit: woodrowvillage Flickr via Compfight cc