03 January 2012
Going to the Extremes
I've recently been reevaluating and examing the way I teach content in my class as well as across the curriculum in my department and at my school. I've come to the conclusion that in many classes (including my own), teachers are guilty of presenting muddled and uninsteresting content due to the problem of breadth versus depth. Teachers have long faced the problem of the amount of content that they have to teach along with how in depth they can go into that content. This problem is especially true in Social Studies classes where the problem of how much history to teach (or how much of the timeline to cover) and how do you then go into more in the deeper and stimulating events, people, and stories that make history interesting. To try to deal with this, most teachers try for some kind of "middle path" combining beadth and depth. Unfortunately, in trying to do this, most teachers don't do a very good job over covering the overall material OR getting deeper into the content.
As an alternative, I suggest that instead of going for the middle and thus teaching in a muddled way, we "go the extremes" and do both well. In planning the content to be learned throughout the course of the school year, teachers should look for ways to break down their lessons, projects, activiities, and units to breadth activities and depth activities and do each well and separately (as opposed to muddled together and poorly as most of us do now). In a history class, this would involve a unit that would have a lesson or series of lessons that would give the broad overview of the major themes of a time period, followed by various activities such as primary source analysis, discussion groups, and historical investigation projects that would get in-depth with the material in select ways determined by either the teacher or student choice to support the broader themes. I've have been experimenting with this in my classes this year and I will discuss more details of it's successes and failure in future posts.
I have also come to the conclusion that this type of thinking can inform us with other issues as well. In paticular, I am brought back to my current thoughts on technology integration into the classroom. For years, middle-of-the-road desktop computers in classrooms and labs were the norms for schools. They were better than nothing, but they suffered from the same type of "middle path" problem as in content that the computers offered often more than was needed for student computering on a daily basis, but often didn't offer what was needed for more high-end functions like video editiing and graphic design. A rethink of device type and deployment is needed, one that ideally "goes to the extremes." For everyday student and teacher use, I am convinced that devices like the iPad far better than middle-of-the-road desktop computers in their personalization, battery life, portability, especially if they are deployed in a 1:1 program. iPads also continue to prove that along with being great media content consumption devices, they are also becoming powerful content creation devices for everyday document, presentation, video, and audio production. This frees up both funding and space for schools to invest in a small number of high end desktops or laptops on a cart for doing advanced video editing, graphic work or programing. This is "moving to the extremes" of educational technology could have considerable advantages, particularly when paired with the same strategy in pedagogy discussed above.
In pedagogy and technology, despite the instinct to think otherwise, going to the extremes could prove very powerful. Please let me know your thoughts.