Where We Are Now

The 2002-2003 School Year

This school year has begun with some surprises! When Middleschoolkidz.com began in 1999, my students were sixth grade honor students. I taught the honors class in sixth grade for 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. The work of my students at that time drove the creation of the website.

In 2001-2002 and 2002-present, my classes have been heterogeneously grouped. I have a mixture of all ability levels. Surprisingly, I have seen little difference in the creativity, interest level or writing ability of my students.

Presently we are writing about the same issues, for the most part, summer vacation, book reviews, the First Assembly and the World Trade Center tragedy. Students were given a set of questions to be answered in their essays in these first weeks of school. The answers to these questions result in a composition of several paragraphs.

All of the essays, compositions, poems and news magazine articles my students write this year will be a part of their on going Writing Portfolio. Typically my students collect these experiences in a loose-leaf notebook I provide at the beginning of the school year. My students will also receive a digital copy of their sixth grade Writing Portfolio at the end of the school year compiled as a digital yearbook. Additionally, many of their writing experiences and photos of their projects will be displayed on our classroom website, www.middleschoolkidz.com.

One of the first things we did this school year was to first determine the learning styles of my students. Learning Style is "the unique way each person learns most effectively."  Our schools do not reflect what is known about "how students learn best."   Developmental considerations, learning styles, multiple intelligences, technology access and culture greatly impact the quality and quantity of student learning. 

Technology in and of itself is no panacea for what ails our schools, however, in the Information Age, it is incumbent upon schools to provide ALL students (regardless of socioeconomic background) with meaningful access to technology tools and teachers trained to effectively integrate technology and the internet into daily classroom instruction across the curriculum.

Developmental considerations directly impact curriculum and instructionEducators must plan a developmentally appropriate curriculum that enhances their students' logical and conceptual growth. With regard to instruction, teachers must emphasize the critical role that experiences - or interactions with the surrounding environment - play in student learning. For example, instructors have to take into account the role that fundamental concepts, such as the permanence of objects, play in establishing cognitive structures.  Clearly, "sage on a stage" rote memorization does not support students developmentally, nor does it consider "how students learn best."

We took the VARK test to evaluate our preferences for the way in which we process information. The online VARK is available for students, teachers and parents to determine how they learn best and take in information.

This V-isual, A-ural, R-ead and W-rite and K-inesthetic assessment tool can provide teachers and students with valuable insights into the ways in which we all process and take in information. Many students learn best in a combination of the VARK. Some people are adept in many learning styles.

Sometimes the teacherís learning style and delivery of instruction style inhibits the learning styles of their students. Teachers, students and parents need to be aware of these variables in the classroom.

Part of the technology skills my students will be learning this year will be based on the Linux Platform. My students will use the Microsoft Platform in the school computer lab. They will complete the remainder of their class work and projects using Linux in our classroom. The Room 008 Linux Project is a new addition this year and will provide my students with an additional subset of technology skills.

What Iím discovering this year is my sixth grade students are better able to write and compose directly from the keyboard. I have 47 students in two sections.  I teach English Language Arts, Social Studies and Reading to these students. Approximately 39 students have computers at home. Additionally, students have asked me if they can use add pictures and use PowerPoint in the computer lab to write an essay or book review. This question was asked before Iíve introduced PowerPoint to the class and in the second week of school!

What this tells me is that students today are coming to my class more informed, aware and interested in technology than ever before. Last year in fifth grade, students were not exposed to technology.  Their teacher did not take them to the computer lab to work on projects.  They did not have an extensive writing portfolio from their previous elementary school. They had one or two samples of essays, compositions or poems in a manila Writing Portfolio that was collected by their fifth grade teacher.

 From my observation point, this second week of school, students in my classes are gaining technology skills at home, on their own computers. They are often unaware of the many technology skills they already possess. They often cannot describe to you how they moved text, inserted pictures or added color to their text; they just ďdid itĒ.

Iím encouraged by their technology skills. TheĒ digital divideĒ has narrowed within the confines of my portable classroom. Socioeconomic factors and technology literacy in schools notwithstanding, Iím heartened by their written work. 

What this also tells me is that my sixth grade students will be able to go further and faster than any other class Iíve taught. The level of their projects and depths of their writing will almost certainly improve. I believe our entire technological experience this year will know no limits.

Our on going news magazine, 40 Minutes, will break new ground and illustrate the learning styles and multiple intelligences of my students.

Does this herald a new day in technological literacy? I think so. If schools and teachers are not versed in the technology, the students are. They kinesthetically manipulate software unconsciously, adding interest and demonstrating a familiarity their teachers may not have.

A 1997 report by the Benton Foundation, cites chilling predictions by researchers who have investigated educational computing:

"Economically disadvantaged students, who often use the computer for remediation and basic skills, learn to do what the computer tells them, while more affluent students, who use it for programming and tool applications, learn to tell the computer what to do.... Such students [economically disadvantaged] become passive consumers of electronic information...Once out of school, they are relegated to low-wage jobs where they may operate electronic cash registers or bar-code readers. They may catch on as data-entry clerks, typing page after page in deadly monotony. They are controlled by technology as adults - just as drill-and-practice routines controlled them as students."

The technology skills of students are often limited by access.  The more students are exposed to technology, the more proficient they become. They begin to use technology unconsciously as a tool. It becomes as familiar as the cell phone, DVD player or microwave. This generation of students will not know about record turntables, phone booths, banks closing at 3pm Mon-Friday, paying bills by mail or stores closing on Sundays. Itís a new day, a new society, user friendly and consumer oriented.

They must have all the technological skills needed to succeed in an increasingly technological world. Their journey towards honing and developing those skills begins this year in Portable 008.