Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When is an onion not an onion

I come from Walla Walla, WA where we grow sweet onions. In fact, our Walla Walla sweet onions are so sweet you can eat them like an apple. Seriously!
Yesterday I was thinking about this and I realized even though you CAN eat them like an apple, I never use them in recipes which call for apples. I only use them in recipes as onions. Why is that?
We see things in categories and an onion, however sweet it may be, is an onion. This is the category in which it belongs. To truly be creative and wise, we have to think outside of the box, or in this case, the category.
We tend to think of software and technologies the same way, each in a well-defined category. For example, word processors are for typing and creating 'to be printed' documents. Spreadsheets are for organizing data and creating graphs. Yet most (good) pieces of software can be used in a wide variety of ways.
My students and I used Excel, a spreadsheet program, to make maps of Ancient Egypt. We used PowerPoint to make interactive stories and animate architecture. How do we learn to see the new possibilities for tools? Here are a few ways I have learned to battle my own ignorance and see outside the category!
  1. Watch young people use technology. Today's youth have grown up with technology and they more fully explore the possibilities of all tools. They collaborate with one another sharing ideas and findings. They are not afraid to open menus, push buttons etc.
  2. Open menus and push buttons. Try out the tool, right click/hover to see what the menu choices are in various areas of a window, push buttons to see what happens.
  3. Use the Help menu. The Help menu may be the most underutilized tool in most programs. Using Help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of intelligence. Help is where the ignorant, like myself, look for wisdom and enlightenment.
  4. Ask others. Discussing any tool with others opens the door to learning more, especially if the category 'others' is not limited to those in the immediate vicinity. Using Internet sites to reach out to others and ask questions is a great way to battle ignorance. Here are a couple of the major teacher discussion sites, there are lots of others. AtoZTeacherForums and Discussion Lists.
  5. Use Explanation sites. One of my all-time favorites is How Stuff Works. Their technology section is fantastic but don't limit a stop at How Stuff Works just looking for computer info, their site explains how everything works! Love it! Another favorite is Common Craft. Plain simple English explanations using paper!
  6. Use Tutorial sites. Tutorials are different from explanations. Tutorials show a procedure, they don't explain how the technology works, they explain how to do something. There are tons of tutorial sites, many specific to teachers and education such as: Education World Techtutorials, Actden Internet4Classrooms and Teach-Nology Tutorials.
  7. Use the Manufacturer or Publisher. Most technologies and software have robust sites offering help, tutorials, templates etc. Many, even those products which are not specific to education, have large education sections. For example, Microsoft has a robust collection of teacher tutorials, tips, templates and more.
This is not a comprehensive list of ways to further explore the possibilities of software and technology, but it is a starting point. The only way to become wiser is to admit what you do not know and move forward from there! Yours in ignorance!

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