Posted by: Navy Teacher | February 17, 2012

How to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ phenomenon

I was hoping that we would have the opportunity to play with the Inspiration software so I would have a personal experience to include in my blog post.   At first glance, I feel that the Inspiration software can be a great tool to use for both teacher and student.  The best feature in my opinion is the fact that the software reaches all learning styles through interactive functions.  One feature that impressed me was how the software creates an outline from a previously created diagram or a map.  That feature hit very high on my ‘wow’ factor scale.

Of course, there is a potential drawback to Inspiration software.  Doctor Ransom explained the potential drawback succinctly in class.  I could be wrong but I believe he was expounding upon Jozen’s post from the previous week.  If you put garbage into this magnificent tool what should you expect from the output side?

A teacher must utilize pedagogical strategies to teach his/her students how to use the software.  The next step would be for the teacher to model the software for the students.  After modeling the software for the students the teacher must allow the students to demonstrate that they are able to effectively manipulate the Inspiration software.  I consider that last step in the process to be the most crucial step.  As teachers, we cannot expect students to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ phenomenon if they aren’t provided the opportunity to show us that they know how to use the tool.  When do you fit that into the schedule?  I suppose that is another topic entirely.  However, it is unrealistic for a teacher to expect students to use a tremendous tool like Inspiration without training, modeling, and teacher-monitored execution.

I base my opinion on personal experience.  I spent a good portion of my life wearing the nation’s cloth (aka a military uniform).  I will use my last tour of duty as an example.  As the leader of Weapons Department, I used the strategy listed above to ensure that those personnel under my charge were battle-ready prior to our anti-piracy/anti-terrorism deployment.  Please understand I am not comparing a classroom to a military deployment.  Quality results should not be expected if the teacher does not ensure that the students know exactly what is expected of them.

Your thoughts on this subject are greatly appreciated.



  1. In the case of this tool (and many others), what is first required is a meaningful task.Although I have no experience in the military, I’m sure that they don’t send out a squadron of F-16s to airdrop supplies. It would be overkill and the wrong tool to get the job done. Back to Inspiration or Kidspiration, often we ask rather simplistic tasks of our students where paper and pencil suffices… and is perhaps the best tool for what we are asking of our students. Too often, I have seen teachers bring students to the computer lab to use Inspiration to generate a web about themselves… their name in the middle and 5 things about them coming off of the main idea node. That’s it. It got the job done, but it was really an underutilizing of the tool’s potential and it required a great deal of time and resources to make it happen. Gradually, teachers see this too, but rather than ramp up what they have students do with the tool, they just stop using it.

    The challenge continues to be to have have students produce significant things with the tools that they have around them. Meaningful and relevant things. Things that allow them to be creative, to collaborate, to problem-solve, to make a contribution in some small (or great) way – things that allow them to leverage the tools’ features in powerful ways. We have no shortage of learning tools today. Our mission must remain focused on giving students a choice of tools to produce meaningful work as they grow as learners.

    Today, as the culture of schooling and education is drastically changing, this becomes even more of a challenge, doesn’t it.

    • Thank you for the analogy and you are right, the military would never use fighter aircraft to drop supplies. I didn’t think about underutilization of inspiration as an issue. I assumed that teachers would receive training on how to effectively implement the kidspiration/inspiration technology within their classroom.

      • They should… and some do. But many don’t. If they do get any “training”, it is typically about the mechanics of the hardware or software, frequently disconnected from curriculum and pedagogy. It is also often pigeonholed into a single 60 min. workshop at an inconvenient after-school time. For many teachers, this just isn’t enough.

  2. Navy Teacher, what you are saying is exactly right! Technology does not work in isolation, especially in the classroom. You have to scaffold the instruction of the technology. You have to train them. However, do not be afraid to let them produce “garbage” as long as it is “effective garbage.” We all need to make mistakes. Model and demonstrate how to use the technology and then let the students loose on a meaningful assignment where they get to use the tool. Whatever, they produce, they produce. They will learn from each other…they will want o do another assignment with the tool because they will want to do a better job. It is ok to produce garbage every once in a while, as long as they learn from that garbage. TRUST ME, they will make mistakes with new technology…your job is to work with it and keep exposing them to it until they master the skill.

  3. Great post Barry. This is the first time I read your about me, and I think it is an excellent fit for someone like yourself, with a military background and experience, for the opportunity to become a teacher. I am also a social studies teacher and think that your personal experiences/occupation previously would serve you and students very well in the classroom. Also, I think your past experiences in the military is very interesting and admirable ( I am sure you would have interesting stories to share with your students that would captivate them). Regarding your post, you make a valid point of preparation, utilization, knowledge and implementation of a product or service. Specifically, as teachers using technology and Inspiration, it behooves the teacher to understand the functionality of the Inspiration program, but to also understand how the tech resource functions/relates/connects to the specific content and instruction of the material. I reflect back on the design Dr. Ransom showed us at the beginning about interconnecting the circles, where in the middle there is a meeting and overlap of knowledge, pedagogy and tech resource. All 3 parts have to work together to create a meaningful learning experience for students and teachers.

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