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I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s and remember the Space race well. It had a profound impact on me. One of the iconic images I have is the TV shot of the Saturn V rocket clearing the tower. I remember seeing the big red U S A letters streaming vertically upward reaching for the stars as the rocket lifted-off. I also remember watching live TV coverage of that first step that Neil Armstrong took for all of mankind 40 years ago today.
NASA at 50
The Space race is also probably one of the reasons I ended up in the teaching profession and definitely why I pursued a science degree. It was as though America propelled itself into the 21st Century four decades prematurely and stands as a testament to what a nation can do when it commits itself to a common goal.
Nearly every kid has looked upward to the moon and wondered what it would be like to go there. It took a lot of science, an extreme amount of dedication, and the focus of a nation to make it there. It was not easy but we did it.
This 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 reminds me of how ancient that event is compared to the children we teach today. If you are teaching freshmen at the college level then your students most likely were born in 1990, are now 18 to 19 years old, and will graduate in 2012. They were born 21 years AFTER Man first walked upon the Moon, an event that is ancient history to them occurring well before they were born. In fact, many of their parents may not have been born when Man first walked on the Moon, ouch, that reflection hurt. How can we make the Apollo 11 mission come alive if it is ancient history for them? Stay tuned for my Technology Pick of the Week for the answer.
How do we teach new generations that have no history as a reference point? That is one of the great mysteries of teaching and learning. How do we go from the unknown to the known? Finding relevance is the key and we must relate to the mental framework and mindset that is present in todays student and build upon it.
A link is in the show notes to the Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2012 that provides an interesting reflection point to the lives of those freshmen that many of us teach. If you teach a younger grade level then your task is even more difficult as younger students have even less of a framework to build upon. Finding teaching methods appropriate for the mindset of our students is necessary in order for students to find relevance to link their new learning to.
Mindset List for the Class of 2012
In instructional design terms this is called defining prerequisite knowledge and too often we teachers make assumptions about what our students know, or are suppose to know.
In Vygotskian terms this is the search for the Zone of Proximal Development that we teachers aim for in guiding our students from the unknown to the known. Start at too basic of a level and we lose them to boredom, start at too advanced level and we lose them to difficulty. It is in the social interaction that this zone is negotiated and found. When we get it right magic happens and students can take quantum leaps in their level of knowledge and ability and can truly reach deep understanding of a subject area.
Determining prerequisite knowledge is one of the first steps in teaching any topic yet so many times we get it wrong before we even begin. We are driven by “covering” the material in the curriculum come heck or high water. Who cares about teaching for understanding when we have so much to cover. For me this is a fatal mistake in the learners development for there is much to be said for scope and sequence in order to reach a deep level of understanding. Skipping steps in the learning process often results in gaps that cannot be overcome.
Many are guilty of teaching the curriculum and not the student. This is where we lose many students, frustration sets in and students turn to mechanical methods of solving problems in an effort to get by rather than seeking understanding. How do we grab the students attention and make learning relevant? The wonders of technology can assist us and make even ancient history come alive for todays students.
Technology Pick of the Week
My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a website that showcases the Apollo 11 mission and is called We Choose the Moon, a link is available in the show notes. Many of our students were not around 40 years ago but there is not a reason that they too cannot experience this event in an authentic way.
We Choose the Moon
The We Choose the Moon website has minute by minute mission coverage and is currently running in real-time as things happened on the Apollo 11 mission 40 years ago. It is an interesting approach offering a historic recreation of the events in real-time that is very well done. If one did not know any different the transmissions could pass as happening today. I have been listening to the real-time transmissions today in the background and it is just like being there all over again.
This site will remain up after today and has a wealth of information about the Apollo 11 mission. Too bad many school children are out of school for the summer as this site has some excellent animations of the mission. This site has original video footage and original NASA transmissions that make it feel like it is happening now. You might want to bookmark this site and revisit it again when school is back in session to have as a resource for a unit on Space exploration.
That wraps it up for episode 93 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at www.eiu.edu/itc just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.