Content driven change…

I’m a pretty big movie buff – love to see good stuff, and yesterday I went to see Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. The movie was pretty good, Kidman and Eckhart both gave very strong performances (probably her best work), and the movie itself was a strong look at how we deal with grief. It didn’t take the easy way out, and I appreciate this. Incidentally, the “segmented” pic that first appears on the website and then reappears after you watch the trailer is a great overview of the emotions present in the movie – tremendous use of a graphic for the site, if you will. But there was a scene in which they spoke of buying a friend’s daughter the game Candyland for her birthday and this got me to thinking about change – specifically content driven change.

You might be saying to yourself “Lenzi, where in the world are you going with this?” or maybe even “Duh, that’s pretty darn obvious,” but either way, please stick with me.

For the past 14 years of my life, I’ve been inside a classroom and constantly dealing with new fads, if you will. Granted, they’re all recycled ideas with a fresh new “brand name” label thrown on them, but they’re basically fads nonetheless. (Feel free to ridicule my use of the word fad, by the way – that’s perfectly fine with me). I’ve watched as an emphasis has been thrust upon us to incorporate technology and had the term 21st Century Skills thrown at me more times than I care to recall (we’re now into our 11th year of that “new” century, by the way). I’ve seen SmartBoards and Elmos and Prezis and blogs and have incorporated them all into the classroom. I’ve helped to alleviate the fears that some have when incorporating these tools into their classrooms. And I’ve watched as many, many people have dumbed down their lessons for the sake of incorporating this technology.

Candyland is a pretty simplistic game, isn’t it? It’s been updated a little bit, but for the most part, it’s stayed the same since its creation in 1945. Yes, 1945 – for you non-math majors, that makes it a cool 65+ years old. Yet, every year, parents buy this simple game for their children – and guess what? They love it. Watch a little kid playing it – seriously, they love this game. And could it be any easier of a concept?

Now, I’m not a big video game kind of guy (unless we’re going back to Pole Position or Dig Dug or Donkey Kong). But I’m sure there are some awesome video games out there – a good friend of mine is hooked on Call of Duty and I’ve heard a ton of my students talk about playing it as well. But to me, the newer video games are all the equivalent of adding all of those “fads” to education. For every great video game, I’m sure there are a bunch of idiotic games as well. They can be great, but the content is what truly defines the greatness, in my opinion.

And this goes for what we’re doing in education as well. We must drive our lessons based upon the content, not simply the gimmick. Think of how many horrendously done PowerPoint presentations you’ve seen – and I’m willing to bet you’ve seen many. Is it PowerPoint’s fault that the presentations were horrible? Well, unless some kind of crazy glitch in the program reared its ugly head in the midst of the presentation, then no, it’s not. In our field we must remember that Candyland (or the content, in my analogy – just to knock you over the head with it) is what’s most important.

Please don’t take this as me saying that we shouldn’t incorporate these tools – we absolutely must figure out ways to deliver the content in ways that our students appreciate, understand and value. If this means that we have to use these “gimmicks,” then so be it. But we have to maintain a focus on the content above all else, in my opinion…

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One thought on “Content driven change…

  1. Nice point, Lenz. Just to add my 2 cents, I’ve found that iPad is the most seamless piece of technology in recent years. Assuming you have good wifi available, you can add context to a lesson very quickly and easily by referencing educational text, pictures, maps, dictionaries and commentary/viewpoints.

    A well-designed lesson would probably have all links and content laid out previously. With more advanced/trustworthy students you could lean toward a bit of free discovery. All I know is that I can’t read a Dan Brown book on paper anymore because I need the flexibility and historical context provided by my Kindle for iPad and my Safari Browser.

    Note: I’m not a Mac guy, but I’m worried that other tablets might not measure up to iPad’s performance/flexibility.

    In the bigger picture, it seems the valuable aspects of “fads” are those that bring a “surround sound” effect to the lesson by hammering the point or alternative points home from all angles. It’s likely this will add a memorable moment as a key for the students to draw on this lesson later in the quarter or later in life. Is that part worth it if it bogs the lesson down too much? Maybe not.

    And finally, Dig Dug rules! Q-Bert too! Candyland is OK, too, but most of the board games Maddy has are so limited that the only advantage I can see is interacting with her parents and not staring at a screen for 30 min. I hate to say it, but she learns more from screens these days (Martha Speaks!).

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