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Blog #3 (Debate #3) – Fundamental Skills… What Should We Teach?

Welcome to another week that featured two outstanding and passionate debates! I was definitely on the fence with these topics and had to unpack the presented information. Well done, teams! Our first debate presentation was on schools having to teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology. The ‘agree’ team had a brilliant opening argument video that featured clever use of technology to present their side. This video alone had me wavering on my initial feelings on the topic.

As an educator, I believe in balance, but I also believe in meeting the needs of each individual student. Technology allows for access and opportunity. Although we can agree that there are a digital divide and money ‘talks’ regarding advanced platform features, there are still several accessible technologies that assist and enhance student learning experiences. If you teach middle-year Mathematics, you may recall teaching percentages and how to find them mentally. You may have even challenged students to say that they would never carry a calculator to the store or mall and emphasized the importance of the lesson! With one flash of their cellphones, those words become meaningless. Jokes on us… they carry a calculator….every…where…they…go! The group also expressed the ease and speed technology presents. Take SeeSaw for example. Students can reflect and share their learning with their teachers and families instantly! Assistive technologies allow students with intensive needs to overcome challenges. Undoubtedly, technology is a great tool!

We have a duty to educate our students through 21st Century Learning Skills. In Forbes, Erica Swallow’s (2012) article challenges the education system to evolve and become innovative to meet these new skills. In the article, Tony Wagner explains, “as a country [we] need the capacity to solve more different kinds of problems in more ways. It requires us to have a very different vision of education, of teaching and learning for the 21st century.” Technology allows society to reach new horizons and opens opportunities.

However, as I mentioned, balance is key! Our opposing team emphasized the importance of fundamental skills being taught in schools. Is technology reliable? It can be but take spell check for example. When a student types the ‘wrong’ word correctly, spell check doesn’t pick up on the grammatical mistake. Furthermore, I am a firm believer that reading creates better writers and that writing improves comprehension and retention. We can agree that many of our society is too reliant on technology. Technology is great when it works, but what happens when it doesn’t? How are we still providing students opportunities to think outside the use of technology critically?

Personally, I am a HUGE fan of Dr. Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms and engage students in the framework in Math and other subject areas, tasks, and assignments to get the students to think. I often found that students wait for the answer or feel hopeless if they can’t use the mighty Google to rely on a solution. John Merrow’s blog on the Back to Basics model explains that “the earlier ‘back to basics’ movements failed because schools obsessed about The Three R’s to exclude creativity, fun, art, music and physical education.” How do we engage students creatively while promoting fundamental skills transferable to new 21st Century Learning?

Finally, I want to share how technology can present itself. I work with many English as Additional Language (EAL) learners in my current role. They share their secret when asked how they learned or refined the English language. The secret is being exposed to the English language through movies. To me, this is a form of technology. Technology has also gifted me the opportunity to teach EAL learners through oral and written translation, so students don’t miss a beat. Again, technology is great when it works, but we must also be aware of balance!

8 thoughts on “Blog #3 (Debate #3) – Fundamental Skills… What Should We Teach?

  1. Great post. I really like how you shared how your EAL learners learn English. I know that many of my EAL students tend to learn the English lanague through YouTube. Although many of them admit that they probably learn things that they shouldn’t, while down the rabbit hole of videos, but they said that the video strategy was one of their favourite ways to learn the language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Kelly, absolutely! I’ve learned a lot from my EAL students and language acquisition. When they shared their ‘secret’ with me, I was shocked at the moment, but it totally makes sense. I agree with you on the rabbit hole piece, as many shared their movie selection, and some were definitely not appropriate.


  2. Hi Arkin,

    Thank you for sharing your great thought. English is my second lanuage too. When I learn English back to elementary school, the main method that teacher taught us was to memorize. Memorizing the spelling of words, memorizing grammar rules, memorizing sentence formats, etc. Although I use English everyday in my daily life, if I encounter a new word, I still will memorize it so that I can use it in the future. Regarding the spelling check, I think students needs to know what the word is, able to use it, and how to spell that word first, so that if they spell it wrong, the software can check it for them, but if you even don’t know this word at all, what’s the point to use spelling check?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Echo! Memorization is definitely a great strategy, and I find it useful as well. Perhaps spelling tests are still relevant? Even in upper grades for learning new words and grammar usage.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Arkin. Your comment, ” I often found that students wait for the answer or feel hopeless if they can’t use the mighty Google to rely on a solution” really struck me. I’m not sure this was even discussed on Monday, and I know I didn’t think it until reading your post. There is value in the discomfort of NOT knowing something and NOT having the answers at our fingertips. We’ve all become so accustomed to instant gratification…what about the learning and creativity in solving our own issues, rather than Googling the solutions? Darn, I wish I hadn’t posted my blog already – this is a solid point. Thanks for starting my brain down a whole new tangent…ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Kimberly, thanks for the comments! Yes, there is much gratification and satisfaction during those ‘AHA’ moments after working to find the answer. Just like our students, educators don’t need to know everything. I’m transparent when I don’t know something, and often work with my students to find the answer. Some students may have the answers based on their own personal experiences. I highly recommend the ‘Building Thinking Classroom’ approach. It is a game-changer! It has built the capacity in my students to work through and persevere when tasks/assignments are difficult. It’s taken some time, but the results have been amazing.


  4. Hi Arkin,

    Thank you for the video and suggested theory to engage students in learner-centered thinking and autonomy, by Dr. Peter Liljedahl’s. This approach could be used for fundamental or complex skills, when incorporating technology or not, to offer a more meaningful learning experience. And that’s what it’s all about!

    I agree with your final statement, and it reminded me of something Alyssa said ( “As educators it is important to remember that technology is a tool for our students, not a teacher.”


  5. Arkin, thanks for your post! I like that you mentioned Thinking Classrooms. I attended the Thinking Classroom PD this week, and I couldn’t help but think back to this debate while we were doing one of the tasks. We were trying to figure out a formula for the task and when the numbers were too high to think AND calculate, we all reached for our phones. It was a perfect example of how you can be learning and thinking, even though calculators are in use. I think sometimes people imagine that calculators will take over and students won’t think anymore, but let me tell you…I was using a calculator and I was definitely being challenged to think!


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