Saturday, March 26, 2011

Writing on Slates

I'm interested in understanding the role of technology in the transformation from the one room school house to today's system. 

I'm just beginning the study but I believe that at one point, writing with paper and fountain pens and quills was awkward and expensive. While businesses had typewriters, schools generally did not.  The students practiced writing on slates with chalk. The books were shared resources.  The teacher along had a notebook in which she would write in ink.
I'm not sure when this era would have existed.  For instance, the picture below is taken from a page of Harpers Weekly published in 1886 (I bought it from Argosy Book Store in NYC). Its about the Philadelphia School of Industrial Design.  The studenets seem to be holding pieces of graphite.  The mass produced pencil started in Germany in 1812 (source: Pencil History)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Filmstrip & Film Projectors and STEM Education & Technology

I just attended CYSTE  (Conference on Cyberlearning Tools for STEM Education) which was a thrill in a number of ways. It was a conference of highly motivated professionals working and researching collaboratively to figure out how best to move forward with technology and STEM education.

I was struck by the fact that most speakers were very  optimistic about the potential for a positive transformation of education through technology.

The conference, held in conjunction with the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Annual Conference in San Francisco was held at the Claremont in Berkeley and appropriately, the hallways were decorated with retro technology. For instance: this old filmstrip projector was called a Delineascope and is marked Property of Fowler High School.  It was made by the Spencer Lens Company of Buffalo New York and is Number 6634.

Right next to it was an old film projector.Unfortunately, my cell phone picture of it is not adequate to make out the manufacturer or item number.

I appreciated the juxtaposition of spending the days discussing how the Ipads and Android smart phones and other amazing new devices were full of potential to transform education while we had examples of previous transformations sitting in the hall.

Reflecting a bit on the question of technology and education.  It's too easy to be optimistic and believe that technology in of itself is transformative.  Similarly, it's too easy to be cynical and say that technology makes no difference, it's all about teachers.  My thought is that:

  1. Schools should not feel hopelessly out fashioned and in many cases, todays schools really feel to students like a visit to a museum. This makes it hard for them to take the schools seriously when they know more about technology and the "real world" than their teachers.
  2. It's hard for schools, just like it's hard for people and businesses, to stay current on technology. It's moving fast and it's hard to keep up. This question alone merits a lot of conferences and investment.
  3. The nature of work and tools is changing rapidly and surely, the schools should have as one goal that they provide graduates ready-to-work in todays world.  Doing research and "science" today is heavily dependent on technology. Yes, there are still beakers and field work but there is a lot of computer aided analysis of organic molecules and remote sensing data of geology.
  4. Technology can transform education about science. There are films and games and websites which have had and will have phenomenal impact. But at the end of the day, it's not the gee whiziness of it, it's the content and the activity and the "teaching" that they provide or facilitate.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Old Spelling Books & Readers

They're musty and yellowed with age. The covers are faded and practically illegible. Numerous students have decorated the pages with penciled handwork. The brittle pages crumble like dried leaves making a mess all over the floor. But oh how we love these old spelling books and readers!
These were among the textbooks used in the first small schools. They went in sequence and the vocabulary got progressively challenging. They included simple lessons that often taught morals and values. Most of the examples gathered between myself and John are from the mid 19th century to the turn of the 20th.
We enjoy finding like-minded people who savor these old tomes too. My friend Sharon, who used to be a teacher, gets it. She tells me, "There is something very comforting about old textbooks. When I find these books at the flea market, usually for one or two dollars, I sort of hyperventilate the way some women do when they find a great pair of shoes."
When I last visited Sharon, we combed through her bookshelves. She took out an English book that belonged to her father. Published in 1924, the "Century Collegiate Handbook" was given to Inek, when he arrived in the U.S. after WW II. Sharon adds, "As far back as I can remember he has always loved books and reading and that has been passed on to me."