Temple Grandin and Different Ways of Thinking

“A bridge will fall apart if you ignore the details.” To some, this all-too-simple and quite obvious quote is nothing more than a mere remark. However, if there’s one detail (no pun intended) that makes this quote worthy of discussion, it’s the term “details,” which is a concept that goes untouched far too often in our world and is something to which we need to pay a little more attention.
The author of the previously mentioned quote is Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman who has taken her unique traits and characteristics of her case of the autism spectrum to better the world in a myriad of ways. In particular, she has taken her unique sensory issues to create devices that have helped comfort not only humans, but animals as well. And, in order to see more frequent inventions that benefit our world, she stresses the idea that we must place an emphasis on helping those “geeky, nerdy, smart kids” with autism find what interests and motivates them and relate those interests to the real world. I must say, after reading her book, “Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism,” I became a huge fan, but after seeing her Ted Talks video (featured below), I think it’s safe to say I’m her biggest fan (if you believe you’re her biggest fan, you can meet me out by the flagpole tomorrow- I’ll be there).

According to Dr. Grandin, the autism spectrum is a humungous continuum ranging from nonverbal individuals all the way to brilliant scientists and artists, from Einstein to Tessla to even Mozart. Individuals of these calibers do something differently than the average Joe- they think in pictures rather than language, which is precisely how Grandin thinks. She says that there are really only three types of thinkers: photo realistic thinkers, pattern thinkers, and verbal mind thinkers. Because I’m such a strong proponent of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (something for which you should put your coffee down to research), I also support her philosophy, which goes a little something like this: photo realistic thinkers (like Temple herself) think of everything in pictures and movies, but struggle with concepts like algebra; pattern thinkers are fascinated with music and math, but struggle with reading; and verbal minds know facts about everything you can think of, but are poor at drawing. As we can see, according to this logic, everyone has both strengths and weaknesses in their intellect (precisely the premise of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences), so it is our duty to find those strengths in our young brains of the future and capitalize on those strengths and lessen the focus on students’ weaknesses. But, how do we accomplish this “easier-said-than-done” task and to which students is she referring? The solution: “You gotta show kids interesting stuff.”
Now, by “interesting stuff,” I’m eluding to topics that pique student interests and turn them on to learning. And as for which type of student, I’m speaking of students on the autism spectrum (the focus of this discussion). Many students on the autism spectrum happen to be fixated on certain objects, ideas, or concepts in particular and focus on those areas of interest and become masters of their area. An example Temple provides of how to put those interests to use in the real world is by creating scenarios that incorporate their specific interests. For example, if a student is fascinated by cars of any kind and they have skills in science, provide them real-world science problems that involve the use of cars, causing them to become much more susceptible to solving those problems. So, in Temple’s case, she put her foci to use to solve real-world issues. For example, if you read her book, “Thinking in Pictures…” you’ll discover that she created two inventions that not only help people and animals, but also save lives. Her “squeeze machine,” which is a revolutionary device which allows individuals with autism to receive the necessary physical feeling of touch, while allowing them to avoid fear by not having to touch others, is an example of her putting to use her fascination with sensory issues and solving a real problem. Another example of this is her capability of relating to and feeling how animals do, such as when she would relate to cattle and their eyesight, fear, and thought process prior to entering vats. This caused her to invent a system that took away that fear for cattle and solved yet another real-world problem.
As a future educator, not only will I need to focus on tailoring my assignments to meet the needs of each individual (differentiated instruction), but I’ll also need to make sure I create asignmnets that are relevan to my students’ strengths and interests. Many students in special education programs, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disroder, have unique fascinations in which they invest countless hours mastering that area. I’m one who likes to capitalize on success and strengths, rather than beat a dead horse by focusing on a concept or idea that isn’t relevant to a student or even capable of them understanding it. Finding those strengths and interests in my students is exactly what I’m going to do.

I Know I Sure Wouldn’t Like a Robot Grading My Essays. Would You?

This past week, we discovered in depth the world of online learning and realized how many countless sources exist for this particular type of learning. Most of the new technology out there makes life easier, more efficient, and more effective. However, there do seem to be some boundaries as to what is just too far for technology. I mean, what’s next? – Robots replacing teachers? Well, believe it or not (sorry for stealing your thunder, Ripley), there are advocates in our world for replacing teachers with robots to help grade papers and essays. While some may think, “heck yea, that sounds pretty cool,” I think it’s safe to say most (at least students) find this idea a little ludicrous, if you will.

I perused my way through my reader and stumbled upon an article title that caught my eye, “Providing Students with Feedback: Instructor or Machine?”

http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/providing-student-with-feedback-instructor-or-machine/

And sure enough, it’s as simple as that- artificial intelligence has been created to grade essays. Now, I feel no desire to bash this idea, for this is a pretty incredible concept and hey, the sky is the limit. Also, we aren’t dealing with any dummies here- the creators of this intelligence are from Harvard and M.I.T. (so I have no room for smack-talk). But, as an undergraduate student myself and someone who takes pride in and has fun with my writing (yea, yea, I know my writing’s not that good), I simply can’t bring myself to believe having a computer grade my writing, as opposed to a real human being, is beneficial. After-all, if I’m putting in long, hard hours of coffee-infused thoughts into my writing for significant portions of my cherished grades, I want another person with thoughts, feelings, and emotions to reflect upon my paper (I hope there aren’t any robots reading my post right now!).

I couldn’t agree more with Debbie (the author of the listed article above) when she stated her main argument: “My argument is that undergraduate students need constructive and specific feedback to develop their writing and critical thinking skills, and a massive course such as a MOOC cannot provide it.” Right on, Debbie! I truly value the specific and detailed responses I’ve received over the years on my essays and writing skills, originating back in high school. I believe real critiques from real individuals has strengthened not only my writing, but my understanding of others’ views and thought processes. For example, I remember writing what I thought was a superb essay for a political science course my freshman year (one for which I put in a lot of effort). To my surprise, my T.A. gave me a B+ (c’mon, I deserved at least an A-). Anyhow, I learned something very valuable in that experience- not everyone has the same views and beliefs, making each grader a unique provider of expertise and wisdom. So, I’m actually happy I only received a B+ (kind of refreshing, actually) because it gave me a new perspective on writing and grading, and if a computer or robot would have graded that paper, I wouldn’t have appreciated the feedback nearly as much.

Long story short: I don’t believe computers, robots, or artificial intelligence (I say robots) can provide the deep, inspiring, intellectual, and compassionate reflections and responses that teachers and professors can (but hey, I’m only human). The human mind possesses magnificent abilities to think abstractly and eminently and computers aren’t designed for thinking outside-the-box- they’re meant for black and white, yes or no answers. And writing has no black and white areas- it’s a form of art. What one person thinks is junk is another man’s treasure and I don’t believe we should subject students’ writing skills to be judged by blinking lights and beeping buttons. As I said before, technology has its time and place, and I am not skeptical enough to claim that this robotic paper grading can never be mastered and find its place- the world just isn’t ready for it today.

Does Digital Citizenship Go Beyond the Scope of the Online World?

As I scrolled through the never-ending lists of blogs focused on education, I decided to narrow my options and shoot for a more exclusive category: digital citizenship. Digital citizenship has been one of the main focal points of this semester and as I perused through this particular realm of blogs, I instantly became enticed by the name of one article in particular, “Digital Citiz-wait, what?” So, I decided to read it (which can be found at http://erstrong.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/digital-citiz-wait-what/).

It grasped my attention right off the bat. I think this was because of the conciseness of the writing and its sweet simplicity, while also conveying some messages I hadn’t yet considered. We’ve spent a lot of time defining digital citizenship in class, and I’m glad we did (especially considering I had never once heard of the term prior to class). Through my first few weeks of pondering the definition of this, at least to me, foreign term, I basically created my own definition, which is unfortunately kind of bland and ordinary: digital citizenship is the process of utilizing the internet and all of its resources to become a productive member of the online world, while respecting others’ views. However, after reading this article, I’ve come to look at it from a whole new perspective, further broadening my idea of what digital citizenship truly is.

I enjoyed all of the ideas presented, from bullying, to copyright, to etiquette, and so on, even though I sadly recognize that I too have been part of the problem in the past (although hey, who hasn’t in one way or another?). For example, cyber bullying is an incredible problem worldwide, which has disturbingly led to suicides and broken relationships and I feel as though this isn’t restricted to simply being an “internet problem,” but rather a societal problem existent since the dawn of time, which needs to be addressed to all children, in all schools, in all countries. Perhaps what I’m trying to say here is that my agreements with and supports of Emily’s argument can be summed up in one sentence she wrote: “It’s about (digital citizenship) teaching people to be decent human beings and to use blunt speech and insults only in contexts where they are appropriate (where as she pretty much stated, “when is it, if ever, appropriate to insult?”).

So, should we be teaching our students about “digital citizenship” or should we simply be teaching them about what it means to treat others with respect, kindness, fairness, and dignity? Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Or, maybe we need to delve deeper into the meaning of digital citizenship and keep it as its own, separate entity- I really don’t know.

As a future educator, I’ll have to make that decision on my own and discover my philosophy on digital citizenship. As technology and the internet expand by the second, it’ll be of the utmost importance that I do relay to my students guidelines of what it means to be respectful and mindful of others in the online world. However, more importantly, I’ll have to relay those same messages to them regarding being respectful and mindful of others in the real world, everywhere they go.

5 Types of Assessments

This week we explored several types of assessments in class and new technologies, some of which I’ve never seen or even heard of. They’re all listed below explaining their main purposes and what they entail, as well of a few words of my own addressing my thoughts on them.

DIBELS, which stands for “Dyanimic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills” is a series of short tests that assess early childhood literacy from grades K-6. It is used for assessing the acquisition of a set of literacy skills for young children, such as phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. DIBELS purpose focuses on giving elementary school students a number of quick tests so that teachers will have the data to identify students who need additional assistance so they can monitor the effectiveness of intervention strategies. Essentially, it’s main objective is to assess students to see if they are sturggling in reading and need assistance. This assessment has a sequence of one-minute tests: recognizing initial sounds (phonemic awareness), naming the letters of the alphabet (alphabetic principle), segmenting words into phonemes (phonemic awareness), reading nonsense words (alphabetic principle), oral reading of a passage (accuracy and fluency), retelling (comprehension), and word use (vocabulary). See more at
https://dibels.uoregon.edu/

I believe that this can be a valuable format for assessing literacy skills of young students. This was actually one type of assesment that our professor, Johnell Bentz, recognized and avdocated in class recently. According to the DIBELS website at dibels.uoregon.edu, they are ranked the number one among all universities for faculty productivity in funded reserach, suggesting it is evidence-based. I also have friends whose parents are special educators and they reccomend and utilize DIBELS assessments, so I know this is prevalent in school districts throughout the US. This assessment is relatively simple to administer and is a strong technological device. Data entry includes an area to store instructional notes and add corresponding phase lines to graphs to track student response to instruction and intervention. Assessment scores are automatically entered as the student takes the assessment online you can easily track scores through the years.

Discovery Education Assessment provides teachers with the tools needed to inform instruction and drive student achievement.  Focus includes:  Where are you now? Where are you going? What is the best way to get there? and Are we on the right course? Discovery Education provides a bunch of exciting digital media to give every student a chance to experience the world. All content meets state standards, can be arranged to meet custom curriculum, and supports classroom instruction regardless of the technology platform. It offers fun things like digital textbooks and videos, as well as provides valuable assessments. See more at http://www.discoveryeducation.com/administrators/assessment/

As a future special educator, I will be constantly assessing students and tailoring my instruction to meet the individual needs of every student and I can see this being a very valuable resource. Response to Intervention (RTI) is a crucial aspect of all special education classrooms and fortunately, Discvoery Education Assessment mets those needs through their RTI screens for students at risk by monitoring progress, measuring growth, and identifying students’ responses to instruction. I’m a fan of the ‘progress Zones” aspect of the assessments provided by Discovery. It helps quickly assess and target individual student differences, make assisngments and share them with others, utilize digital content, monitor progress over the year, and display reports that show percent correct, item difficulty, and content mastery.

Individual Student Report is a feature of Discovery Education. It is a way of comparing data of students to schools, counties, and the country. It is in the form of comparison charts. Diamonds represent where other schools in the county are scoring, triangles represent where a specific child is scoring, and the goal is to have one’s child scoring above the county. Charts can indicate at what proficiency level a child scored and provides percentages of correct answers a child gave on a given test. See more at http://help.discoveryeducation.com/assets/support/Individual_Student_Report_Features_20110225.pdf

I see no issues with the product and think it can be a great tool for comparing students’ scores with others. I think a great way to make progress is to compare one to others to catch a glimpse of what’s out there.

TurningPoint AnyWhere allows you to poll from content in whiteboard software, web browsers, PDFs, Word documents and more. You can use your existing presentation or classroom materials and you don’t need to convert another program for polling. Assessment and tracking for groups or individuals is also easily accomplished with a powerful reporting engine. It’s easy to use and also fun. Users are provided the liberty to create their own questions and answers to those questions and anyone can answer with the click of a button. Simply take an “i-clickeresque” remote and select the answer you’d like. You can also make as few or as many questions as you desire and you can easily select which answer(s) are correct (if any). This is a fun way to gather data because you can request anonymous responses and engage an entire classroom. See more at http://www.turningtechnologies.com/?knc-google&gclid=CLaV1Pm_trYCFc9AMgodSlAA0w

As a teacher, I’d love to use this technology (which currently makes college courses much more enjoyable and interactive). I wish I had it in high school and pan to utilize it myself. I think it’s effective and efficient and simplistic as well. I cannot foresee any consequences or issues with using it and would like to see it in all classrooms.

Excel/Data Analysis is an easy way to basically plug in data into a spreadsheet and then transform that spreadsheet into an easy-to-read graph for visual representation. Because Microsoft Office (and of course Excel) are used in both PCs and Macs nearly everywhere, it’s a pretty universal tool that many know how to utilize, saving yourself the trouble of having to explore a foreign concept. As someone who has utilize Excel many a time, I find it pretty simplistic and I believe I’m not the only one. However, I have found some critics of this approach. Issues and concerns with the program can include: Data Analysis ToolPak is not installed with the standard version, you have to change missing values to blanks, and difficulties arranging values. As an educator, I can see this being utilized regularly. I’ve seen it utilized by the majority of my high school teachers and I feel I too will be utilizing (and it will likely be updated in the coming years). I’ve used it for numerous projects (in college) for creating graphs and taking data and I haven’t yet had any problems, so I’d recommend it to anyone at this point in time.

Assessment, and regular assessment for that matter, is imperative in the classroom. I liken it to fitness. They say it’s nearly impossible to get into one’s desired shape without regularly assessing oneself: weighing in everyday, keeping food logs, following workout schedules, etc. If you don’t make these assessments regularly, you have no way to compare where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’d like to be. With education, the same rules apply. You need to intervene and intervene early. You must assess regularly, which isn’t done through simply providing standardized tests once or twice a year- both formative and summative assessments must be provided. Summative assessments, which are given periodically to determine at a particular point in time what students do and do not know, can come in the form of: district benchmarks, end-of-chapter exams, semester exams, and scores to meet AYP (just to name a few). These can be valuable to see if a student has learned the material, conceptualized and simplified it, and retained it over an extended period of time. However, there can be countless reasons as to why a student can do poorly on any one of these at any given time. Though these are helpful, if a student is having a bad day (for a multitude of reasons), this will not suffice. On the other hand, formative assessments, which are part of the instructional process and test more frequently on smaller areas of the course material, can be very helpful because you have a larger data pool to choose from.

As a future special educator, I can’t stress enough the importance of regular assessment in the classroom. Disabilities are constantly changing and so are curriculum and the best way to check where students stand is through assessment. Many students each year enter the realm of special education and many exit, having mastered the skills they need to enter the general education scene. In order to evaluate where to place our children, assessment is key in those situations and decisions.

The Reason Behind Extra-Curriculars

Undoubtedly, one the greatest ways to discover oneself and learn about the world is through extracurriculars. I believe a great representation of this idea was highlighted through my friend Sarah Keating’s video, “Ignite! – The Importance of Extracurricular Activities,” which can be found at her blog at http://skeatin2.wordpress.com/

This video displays numerous reasons as to why participating in extracurricular activities is so important and life-changing. For example, they offer opportunities for students to meet and collaborate with other students who share the same or similar interests. Psychologists have scrapped the old idea that “opposites attract” and have discovered through years of data that the real, relevant quote to follow is “birds of a feather flock together.” That being said, people are most interested in sharing time with those who are similar to themselves and what better way to do so than partake in activities with those who cherish and respect them the same as you do! The video also notes that there isn’t simply one type of activity to choose from, but rather a diverse portfolio of activities. There are athletics, dance, art, music, and after-school clubs and they can all be found at school and outside of school. I liked how Sarah demonstrated that these activities can help students discover talents and that these talents can be practiced non-competitively or competitively, depending on what type of person you are and what your goals are.

As someone who plans to become a high school special education teacher and golf coach, I place a tremendous value and emphasis on joining clubs and extracurriculars, especially joining multiple activities. When I reflect on my own high school experience, I realize that the activities I participated in outside of school (and after school) played a chief role in who I am today as a person and who I want to be in the future. Through extracurriculars I was able to hold leadership positions, discover my strengths and weaknesses, build confidence, meet diverse groups of people, find people with similar interests to me, learn how to debate, argue, and harmonize, follow others instructions and directions, and much, much more- the list could go on and on.

For example, I played on my high school golf team all four years of high school. Through that experience, I learned how to respect older and more experienced players, listen to and take directions from my coach, assist and coach younger players, lead the team as captain my senior year, work with opponents both competitively and sincerely, have strong sportsmanship, and countless other life lessons for which I could write a novel. Although academics and school are the gateway to knowledge and a bright future, those simply don’t cut it. One must go out and explore and capture what drives them. They must utilize the newly honed skills they’ve learned from the extracurriculars and apply them to the real world.

As a teacher, I plan to relay this information to my students. In today’s extremely competitive world, not only must someone have good grades and exam scores to enter a renowned university and earn a rewarding career, they must know how to work outside of the classroom and become a well-rounded contributor to society. I want my future students to understand the importance of the skills, passions, and life-lessons they can learn from extracurriculars and how they can apply them to all aspects of their lives, in and out of the classroom. I believe Sarah’s video expressed many of my similar beliefs and is a great learning tool for anyone who wants to try something new and explore their options.

Valuable Tweets from March 3-9

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Valuable Tweets of the Week!