EC&I830, Take the Wheel, Take It From My Autopilot, ‘Cause I Can’t Do This On My Own, I’m Letting Go…

Debate #3: Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling).

Week #4: Post #1

Coming in Hot!

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Okay, I had to take some time and really cool down after this debate. I’m not sure if it is because it was our group that was involved in the debate, or if it is because I in fact do feel very strongly about this blog prompt, or if it is a combination of both, but gosh I still feel amped up a day later. A special shout-out to Leah, as I know that earlier in the semester she had volunteered to be moved from the topic she had signed up for, to this one so that Sushmeet wasn’t alone. Also, I appreciated how Katia was able to take some feedback that she received about the debates last week, to change things up to make things run more smoothly and to keep the topics flowing and the debates moving. So, a special thanks to her as well. The new format seemed to work a lot better, and people were using the chat to engage in dialogue outside of the main speaking roles.

To tell you the honest truth, even though our group was debating and I feel as if things should be super fresh in my brain and easily put into a blog, I am finding myself trying to review everything that happened and really digest everything that went on during the debate. Katia said that this has been one of the debates that they’ve been refining for some time now, and I think that they may have almost worded it exactly how they need to, as the debate heated up and burned quite hot for the whole time!

Hip-Hip-Hooray Debate

Leah and Sushmeet were a two-person team this week and presented us with three different resources: Shifting Pedagogies and Digital Technologies, Technology in the Classroom (video), and finally Reinventing Education for the Digital Age. To take a peek at their opening statement, you can watch their video here.

Some of the main points that the group addressed are the following:

  • Removal of Medial Tasks: when time is taken away from some of these tasks and put towards higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills, students can move more quickly through questions using technology rather than knowing their mental math facts.
  • Promotes Inclusion: memorization doesn’t allow for all students to engage in learning and feel successful, and each student learns differently. For those that cannot memorize mental math facts, this lowers confidence and hurts their passion to learn and try new things.
  • More Timely Feedback: quick assessments can be given using technology, that can even grade the work and give the results to the teacher, thus creating more time for teachers to change instruction, and students get quick results back.
  • Technology is Here to Stay: technology is used all around us and is the future of learning. Teachers should focus their attention on preparing students for their futures, and the workforce, which to some degree encompasses technology.
  • Shift in the Role of the Teacher: when the teacher spends less time trying to get kiddos to memorize facts, spelling, and more, they can move into the role of a facilitator guiding students along their educational paths.

No Way! Debate (That’s Us!)

Alyssa, Durston, and I teamed up to tackle this topic. Each one of us took part in the prompt to focus on. Alyssa focused on the spelling side of things and used Does Spelling Still Matter? as her reference. Durston took on the cursive writing side of things and used the article What We Lose With the Decline of Cursive to drive his research. Finally, I took on the mental math side of things—computations and mental math facts, using Mathematics Deficit: Why Do Canadian Students Still Struggle in Math? Durston did a bang-up job and put together our opening statement video using the voice notes that we sent him, which you can check out here.

Some of the main points that our group addressed are the following:

  • Basic Skills in Today’s World are Still Needed: from being able to estimate at the grocery store, read and manipulate a recipe, subitize items without having to count, as well as being able to grip a writing utensil to either print or handwrite, we are using basic skills every day. Basic skills are still essential in our lives. Basic skills still play a role in being functionally literate in today’s world and prepare our kiddos for their futures in the workforce (whatever those occupations may look like).
  • The Digital Divide: check out Alyssa’s post for more details on this one! (I am trying to cut down the amount that I am rambling).
  • Foundations of Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills: learning basic computation skills focuses on teaching kiddos the process of how something works. When we ask them to use a calculator or apply their learning to higher-level thinking without having a foundational understanding of the concept, then we are asking students only for the desired outcome, with little understanding about how or why they go there. Teaching students basic math facts to prepare them when manipulating formulas with concepts in measurement such as area and volume, is a foundational skill for them to understand how to work with numbers. For example, Nicole W raised a valid point that even though there are self-driving cars (originally brought up by Dalton), the user should still be able to override the autopilot when safety is at risk, or the car is not functioning properly. If the user does not have the knowledge or experience of how to drive a car, when the technology fails (because we know it will at some point) then we have bigger problems on our hands.
  • Development of Fine Motor Skills and Hand-Eye Coordination: fine motor skills are an essential part of life. From filling out paperwork to writing your own name or phone number, and everything in between, being able to functionally write is imperative. All too often we assume that all occupations have the technology, although we fail to realize that we are thinking in very western ideologies, as well as we are only really thinking of our own perspectives. For example, yes, we rely heavily on technology to communicate in education. However, in the medical world here in Saskatchewan, many places are still using pen and paper charts to update information.

  • Reliance on Technology: technology should be used to enhance learning, not as an end-all-be-all resource. With Regina Public Schools’ current cyber attack, students and staff alike have had to use traditional methods to learn and teach. Students are using a pen and paper, where they may have used technology before. All technological aspects have been affected, and many people are unsure of how to continue teaching and keeping students engaged.

A Few Thoughts & Interpretations

I still am a bit unsure as to why I feel so heated about this debate. I guess I internalized it and went with it. The more research I did, the more compelled I felt towards the disagree side of things. There were a lot of things that I had to take away from this debate, and I feel as if there were a few misunderstandings as well. I was thinking of writing this in a paragraph format, but maybe point form would be better (yes, totally an inside your brain kind of thought). This is probably going to be somewhat of a rant, as I need the space to clear my head and get some of my thoughts out to give my brain some peace. In no way shape or form is this intended to have negative connotations towards anyone, or anything, and is just my ramblings of how I am creating an understanding of the debate the other evening. This may add fuel to some of your fires, but please understand that interpretations are personal, and we all need to approach them from a place of trying to understand a different perspective than our own, rather than trying to attack someone else to show them the ‘more correct’ perspective(s).

  • Technology DOES Have a Place in the Classroom: I’m not sure how this came about, but it became apparent to me that people were equating the need for basic skills as the need to no longer have technology in the classroom. Our group DID NOT say that at all. Our group in fact thinks technology is essential, but our reliance on technology is another story. Learning basic computation skills in school does not only mean learning the multiplication table. Being able to subitize, add and subtract, as well as other basic skills is imperative. The agree side mentioned that doing your taxes with technology is a basic skill, when in fact, it is quite the opposite.
  • Writing Notes: I found it interesting that many people who talked about no longer needing basic skills, were writing with pen and paper during the debate. It makes me wonder, is there a bias at play because they already know these basic skills and can use them if needed? For example, if technology is no longer working the way it is intended to work, are people able to still do their jobs using those basic skills? If they did not have those basic skills or even an understanding of them, would they in fact be able to continue to work, learn, etc.?
  • Subject and Grade Specific: Another misconception that was being tossed around during the debate and while I am reading through blog posts and comments, is that our group thinks that basic skills should be taught at all levels. In Reid’s post, Matt discussed the annoyance he would have if he had to stop his class to review basic math facts in high school. Obviously, learning basic skills happens at an appropriate age and time frame. For example, you wouldn’t teach Kindergarten students how to do their multiplication facts, if they do not know their numbers from 1 to 10. All skills are relative to the learning process and at an appropriate time.

  • Cursive Writing: even though this wasn’t the topic that I was covering for my group, I did make sure that I had some research under my belt prior to the class. Many people were sure that cursive writing was no longer in the curriculum, however, it does appear as early as Grade 3, and it is in several Grade 6 ELA outcomes (CC6.1, CC6.2, and CC6.3). Even though I wish the prompt would have focused on penmanship, rather than solely cursive writing, however, what I also didn’t realize is that in the medical world it is an expectation that employees are able to read cursive writing, as Nicole W informed us. With that being said, how are we to assume what kiddos are going to need in their future vocational roles? Just because we did not have a good experience with it, does not mean that we should also take those preconceived notions and ideologies and place them upon our students.

  • Memorization DOES NOT Mean MASTERY: Leah raised a great point in one of her latest blog posts—learning can be done in the form of gamification (both with and without technology). Learning the basic computations doesn’t have to be pure memorization. Students can learn through games or other creative practices. It doesn’t have to be drill and practice like Mad Minutes for example. I know I have a voluntary multiplication challenge in my classroom where students can level up by learning the different multiplication math facts in a fun way. Many people continue to think that learning basic computation skills, leaves out students who need differentiated practices in order to be successful. That’s simply NOT TRUE. Differentiation happens at all levels, and teachers have a professional obligation to teach all students within their classrooms. So, assuming that learning basic computation skills is only for the average to the above-average students is just not true.
  • Some Overall Thoughts: we need to prepare students for their immediate futures, rather than focusing on futuristic ideologies that may or may not actually take form or place. Technology has a place in education, and we aren’t disputing that in any shape or form. However, we cannot look past the need for students to learn basic skills. The calculator and typewriter have been great debates since the 1980s, and we still see a need for both basic computation skills, spelling, and being ability to write with a pen and paper.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Thanks for popping by, and I apologize for the lengthy post. You know when the hamster wheel in your head is spinning and keeps on spinning and spinning, and you try to stop the hamster from turning the wheel, but it just has a New Year’s Resolution to get fit? Yeah, that’s about where I am at right now, so thanks for sticking around to the end. Heck, if you skipped the post and came straight down here, good on you! In all seriousness, feel free to hit the ‘like’ button, leave a general comment, or answer a prompting question (or as many as you want) below. Let’s keep in mind that interpretations are personal, and each and every one of us comes from different experiences, worldviews, and perspectives. Respect is key. Understanding is important, but choosing kindness prevails.

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  1. Have you been through this debate before in real life either as a student or a teacher? (e.g. the introduction of the calculator, typewriter, computer, tablet, phone, etc.)
  2. Do you think that people with self-driving cars should have passed their driver’s exam, and have a concrete understanding of how to operate a motor vehicle?
  3. If you are a Regina Public Schools employee or someone that has experienced a similar situation with our current technology situation, would you agree that basic skills have made it possible to get through the past week to keep learning and teaching going?
  4. If you are on the ‘AGREE’ side, do you think that you are approaching the prompt with a bias because you already have some of these basic skills in your toolkit and therefore could in fact access them, or with quick practice get them back up to speed?
  5. If you could change the prompt ever so slightly to push you from one side of the debate to the other, what wording would you change? (e.g. change cursive writing to penmanship, etc.)

12 thoughts on “EC&I830, Take the Wheel, Take It From My Autopilot, ‘Cause I Can’t Do This On My Own, I’m Letting Go…

  1. Hi Kelly,
    I always appreciate the deep reflection questions you ask at the end of your blog posts (the mark of a great teacher!). I’m pro (most) basic skills AND technology (with purpose) all the way. If I were to change the prompt ever so slightly, it would be that basic skills should be taught alongside (and as a precursor) to technological skills. OF COURSE, that prompt really wouldn’t foster the heated, amazing discussion that went down last Monday night. Honestly, all of these prompts leave me feeling uncertain, and sometimes uncomfortable, because what I thought I knew or believed….turns out, maybe I don’t. I know that’s a sign of cognitive growth, but yeah, I totally feel like a hamster on that wheel alongside you!

    1. I too think that the prompt should be slightly changed Kim, however, I guess that would make for a pretty basic debate. Like you, I think that everything needs balance. There are some that I feel super strongly about and can’t seem to get out of my head, and then there are others that I see both sides of things and neither know that I fall somewhere in the middle (if that’s even a thing).

  2. Kelly, excellent post as always. Although it is long, it is thorough! To answer some of your questions:
    2. I definitely think that anyone “behind the wheel” of a vehicle that weighs that much and is essentially a weapon should know how to drive it. What if the autodrive failed? The driver would need to know how to manually control the vehicle or they would risk a crash and cause injury to themselves/others.
    3. As someone who works for RBE, my kids would have probably just played outside 24/7 if I did not have many of these basic skills. Sure, printing isn’t he same as cursive, but if I only knew how to type and not write how would I have written all these directions and questions on the board for my students to copy (how would they have copied them down??) when we didn’t have access to printing anything!

    1. Great points, Brittney. You’re so right, or I think so anyway. I think that balance is key for pretty much everything, but our reliance on technology has been very apparent in the last few weeks in our division. From basic communication to sub booking and more, literally, everything has been affected in some way. If we didn’t have basic skills, we would be babysitting kiddos all day. I also think it’s a bit funny that this is how most of us had to teach maybe 5 to 6 years ago, and somehow we are forgetting that the basics still do exist and can be used!

  3. Hello Kelly,
    Thank you so much for your enlightening post. I really enjoy reading it. I also believe that basic skills and technology both goes hand in hand, as technology is an important and powerful tool that can make learning easier.

  4. Kelly, I’m going to answer your question about do you think that people with self-driving cars should have passed their driver’s exam? I really love this question because it puts the whole technology versus fundamentals in an entirely new perspective. First off, no, I do not think that people should pass a driver’s license if they take it with a self-driving car because they are showing no ability to handle a motor vehicle independently. This could be said about computers. Do we really want to give a child a computer if they do not know how to read, write or do basic math with a pen and pencil? My answer is wholeheartedly no. Sure technology adds a whole new element and a different level to learning, but none of that would be possible if students did not have the basics. In my class, we have one-to-one computers. However, I still make sure to balance paper and pen and computer work. Furthermore, I always give the students an option on whether to do it with technology or on paper, and I find that we are often about 80/ 20 for computers but different kids each time. This shows that even kids sometimes do not want to use technology for everything but use their skills and creativity to create a poster by hand or write out their notes with their favorite pen. I can’t imagine a world where these basics are no longer deemed important.

    1. Arkin, isn’t it odd that sometimes we prefer to use technology over penmanship, and vice versa? There are some things that I feel as if I only want to use technology for, like writing a letter for example. However, when it comes to listmaking, math computations, or anything like that, I like to have a pen and paper (or pencil and paper depending on what I am doing). I can’t imagine a world where we no longer can use our brains and hands together, to create things outside of blue light. I think that the basics will always matter. I forget who had brought it up, however, we are only thinking from a western worldview, and yet we are still forgetting urban versus rural, and remote places even within Saskatchewan. Thanks for the response! Your ideas were really engaging.

  5. Thank-You for identifying the spot in the Curriculum where cursive writing exits. I continue to hear from so many primary teachers that handwriting/cursive writing has been removed. Knowing that it still is there frustrates me a bit to know that many teachers pick and choose where to follow the curriculum. I suppose from the version you have clipped from the curriculum it does look like an indicator – but still valuable to know it does exist for further debate.

    1. Leona, It’s crazy to me how many people are saying similar points to yours about cursive being removed. Although it isn’t an explicit outcome, it falls under many indicators as early as Grade 3. This is just one of the examples of where teachers’ interpretation of the curriculum falls short. We see this in sexual health education and so many more topics where people don’t see the need to teach it or are uncomfortable teaching it. We also see that when educators are sometimes strapped for time, whole strands such as geometry and measurement simply get missed. Without some of those foundational teachings, it really hurts kiddos when scaffolding concepts take effect.

  6. I was also surprised how heated the debates got, but it goes to show how invested we can become. It’s hard not to take comments personally and leave the debate at the virtual door.

    You did a great job and I agree that (as with all of our debates) a balance is needed. That balance can also fluctuate depending on the needs of the students and the situation. As a grade 6 teacher I often forget about the indicators that mention cursive handwriting and a majority of my students either struggle with it or do not have the skills at all. In fact any student who transfers from another school does not know how to read or write in cursive. I was not aware that it was required for people in the medical field. That will be a huge motivator in my class (lots of doctors in my school) and I may close the year with some review.

    Still this goes to show you how many teachers are dropping some of these skills, even when they appear in the curriculum. This is something I will have to re-examine in my own practice.

    1. You hit the nail on the head Mike, when you said that it’s hard not to take comments personally and to be able to leave them in the virtual world and move along. I think that there is still a place for basic skills, and maybe they need to be taught differently than say we did growing up, but there are other ways to make learning engaging and fun. Thanks for the great feedback! 🙂

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