Category: Educational technology (page 2 of 21)

More Reflections on Why

Another impact of the Simon Sinek book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is that I have been giving thought to how I could put my why into one concise, easily understood statement. While not ready to declare it as final, the following is the current incarnation:

To facilitate meaningful and engaging learning experiences that equip students to reach their dreams.

Here are a few key elements:

  1. Facilitate–my role is to provide tools, training, resources needed for learning.
  2. Meaningful–meaning is a highly personal thing, and we should look for and offer diverse learning opportunities and technologies reflective of the outside world
  3. Engaging–while digital learning tools are exciting to a large percentage of kids, they do not equal engagement by default. The focus still needs to be on powerful classroom practice that pulls learners in.
  4. Experiences–with a nod to John Dewey, learning is most effective within the context of powerful experiences. Do the technologies and strategies I promote create these?
  5. Equip…their dreams–we as educators are beholden to standards. Goals for our students are dictated from ivory towers and governments. Ultimately, however, I think most of us could see no higher level of success than if our students returned to us to tell us of big dreams we inspired and how they achieved those dreams.

Finally, another thought hit me yesterday: What would it look like if we taught our kids to articulate their whys? How might making these concrete affect how our students approach learning? Would our schools even fit their whys at all?

Does Educational Technology Matter?

Over the Thanksgiving break, multiple family road trips served as good opportunities to catch up on some audio books that I’ve been carrying around in my phone for the past year or so (My family might question this, but I’m driving, and they have their own headsets, so…). Once book I’ve been listening to is Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. It is an interesting read/listen, if a bit repetitive at times. I have long believed that  vision was the best motivator of people, and Sinek shares many examples of groups where shared vision nurtured great accomplishment and sustained success. While primarily focused on business, the importance of understanding our why might be even more important in education. Our best schools and best educators are certainly not motivated by money or fame, after all. There is something more intrinsic and powerful that makes great teachers get to school early, stay late, create colorful and engaging learning environments, lend an ear to a student in crisis, continue to learn and grow professionally, put up with the tests and budget cuts, etc.

The book prompted me to do some reflecting on why I work as an educator and digital learning leader. Educational technology has been a source of some debate for many years. Research has, frankly, painted widely varying views of the educational impact and value of investing in computers, iPads, software, peripherals, etc. Entire schools have been set up as computer-free zones. Classroom technology and infrastructure funding are annually sources of debate and always on the chopping block. Still, technology integration remains something that some of us passionately promote at staff meetings, conferences, professional learning sessions, in social media, and even over family dinners. Here are my whys, which happily made a convenient acronym, CORE, and everyone loves acronyms!

  • Creativity — technologies offer countless opportunities for students to create.  Creativity is demonstrated and strengthened through producing an imaginative multimedia presentation or video, writing an original program, constructing a robot, or designing a 3D prototype. The most powerful moments I have witnessed involving educational technologies are those where original ideas became concrete products. Importantly, creative thinking transfers to almost all areas of life, whether solving a problem at work, fixing a car, raising a child, etc.  The creative processes of imagining something, making it, evaluating its quality, troubleshooting, and making needed improvements  are vital to our students’ future success, and technology is a valuable partner in their development.
  • Opportunity.  Whether a geek or a caveman, it is impossible to deny with sincerity or credibility the importance of some level of technological proficiency in the home, workspace, etc. Students who graduate without being able to use multiple tools and platforms are immediately at a disadvantage to more experienced peers, whether in the college classroom or the workplace. It is my goal for our Matador students to be exposed to a wide range of technology tools and, when possible, to master them. The opportunity to use these tools also opens students’ eyes and minds to future learning and working opportunities that they might have never considered or imagined. In short, I don’t want any of my Matadors to be limited in life by a lack of experiences while a student here.
  • Relevance. Used well and appropriately, educational technologies make learning immediately more relevant to students and the way they live. For example, a teacher could take students to the library or refer them to the class encyclopedia or dictionary to conduct research. I have heard teachers express that students need to know “how to do it the old fashioned way.” I have never churned butter, and it hasn’t once kept me from putting too much on my pancakes. I won’t argue against library research skills, but for most of us, research happens in the palm of our hands or sitting in front of a monitor. Name an elementary or middle school research topic, and a student can find an informative and suitable Youtube video in seconds (something they usually didn’t need a teacher to learn). Ed tech is comfortable and familiar to students, and the actions and products created reflect what they are doing and making outside of school. T
  • Engagement. My 3rd grade teacher’s biases aside, I have always found that happy students are more effective learners. Students faced with interesting, relevant, and challenging learning tasks  engage deeply and, therefore, learn better. Technology alone does not guarantee engaged kids. However, when technology is a part of a powerful, creative learning experience, and when it is a tool for creatively sharing ideas or projects, engagement soars. While “fun” should not be confused with engagement, students’ affinities for technologies make learning tasks less tedious, resulting in greater effort and stamina. The engagement effects can be especially significant for populations most at risk.

It should be mentioned that I don’t spend a lot of time promoting or supporting prescriptive technologies or software. I do recognize the value or place for some of these. However, specialized math tutorials, reading programs, commercial assessments, and similar technologies are simply too narrow in focus to fit the CORE reasoning behind what I do, and subject area specialists are often best suited to make those choices. For them, an important why might involve a student mastering multiplication facts or understanding context clues. My work necessitates that I focus on tools and strategies that have broader, more open-ended impact, and my whys reflect this.

It is also significant that I do not see high test scores as a worthy why or goal for using educational technologies. In my experience, effective, engaging learning experiences produce students more than capable of handling the tests. I wanted my students to truly lose themselves in the learning, and that is impossible if our why is just a  test. Tests are not a why that kids will share, and learning will suffer.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts. What are your whys? Leave your comments below. 🙂

New Podcast: #30: What’s On the Horizon?

This (long-delayed) episode of the Moss Free Show discusses the six educational technology tools identified by the authors of the 2017 Horizon Report K12 edition as having immediate or imminent 2-5 years) impact on teaching and learning. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the identified technologies, or did they miss something more significant?

Listen to “#30: What’s On the Horizon?” on Spreaker.

Technology Empowered Citizenship

This morning I read an interesting piece by my friend Alec Couros and a colleague of his at the University of Regina, Katia Hildebrandt. The post examines a shift happening in some education circles away from a focus on online safety to a focus on active digital citizenship. Online safety lessons and curricula have mostly focused on how students can avoid harmful or dangerous behaviors, like identity theft, online predators, cyberbullying, etc. Digital citizenship encompasses a broader discussion involving how to interact and participate in a positive manner online. Alec and Katia share a useful resource that contrasts the two here.  Taking it further, they advocate that students be taught to move beyond this personal responsibility focus to one that emphasizes a type of “participatory citizenship” that addresses social problems and the systems that perpetuate them.

I heard a great example of this in the closing keynote by Reshma Saujani at ISTE last week. Ms. Saujani shared the revelation she had during a campaign for congress several years back. Visiting  computer classes as she campaigned, she noticed the pronounced absence of female students. Seeing this as a significant problem for our society, she decided to attack the problem head on by creating a website and a coding club for a small group of girls. She engaged leaders in non-profit foundations, schools, industry, and government in conversations about the gender gap in computer science and has been able to introduce tens of thousands of girls to coding and computer science through her Girls Who Code foundation.

The idea of students using the power of technology and the internet to affect social change is not new, but it is also not the norm in too many schools. As Alec and Katia assert, many schools are still engaging only in a discussion of the consequences of negative behaviors and unsafe practices online.  This is depriving our students from the opportunity to experience empowerment as citizens and engagement as learners. In many schools, online safety or digital citizenship lessons are included only as add-ons, filler activities that allow schools to check off their compliance with state or federal expectations, such as e-Rate requirements. How much more powerful would it be to get students involved in actual citizenship and advocacy as local or global issues and needs arise during the course of instruction. Innumerable opportunities exist during the study of history, science, literature, etc.

The following are a few ideas of my own for engaging students in these types of digital activism or participatory citizenship within the framework of an existing curriculum:

  • Build passion by connecting issues to the students’ world. Does this problem still exist? What impact is it having on me or others? Why is it important?
  • Research the problem. Apply critical skills and media literacy to answer the questions still remaining.
  • Engage students in solution-focused imagining. What could be done to alleviate or solve this problem? Who or what is needed to tackle the issue?
  • Give students the tools to be heard. Teach students to use tools such as blogs, podcasts,  wikis, YouTube, or Twitter allow students to share the issues they are passionate about with a global audience.
  • Connect to other stakeholders. The internet can allow students access to experts, other groups working on a problem, or even those most impacted by the issue.
  • Encourage creative and impactful application. As students learn new technologies, have them explore ways to use them to solve real problems (e.g. using 3D printers to create prosthetic limbs).

These ideas are influenced by and sound a lot like project based learning, problem based learning, or service learning, certainly. And like these pedagogies, students engaging in active, participatory, digital citizenship need more time and flexibility with their projects and products and teachers who are capable of facilitating classrooms with greater levels of student control.

What are your thoughts? Is a focus on online safety good enough for schools? What are you doing with students to promote the use of technology for social impact?

The Teacher’s Role in the Blended Learning Environment

Source: https://flic.kr/p/5KS8nD

Beth Holland has a great post in Edutopia on what is necessary for blended learning to be disruptive, transformative, and powerful. There are so many excellent discussion points in Beth’s article that it’s hard to begin to respond. What resonates most with me at the moment, though, is the role of the teacher in a blended learning environment (BLE).

Very significantly, Beth makes the point that the BLE should take control out of the teacher’s hands and make learning more individualized and learner-centered. As she points out,

“True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process.”

The blended classroom should offer students not only a variety of means to get information, but options for communicating and applying learning. Contrary to this, many so-called BLEs merely digitize the traditional, teacher-centered lessons, activities, and assessments of yesterday. Paraphrasing a point I made in a recent conversation with a wonderful, forward-thinking educator, “Simply substituting the teacher’s voice on a video for a lecture is not transformative and is, in fact, quite likely to be less engaging.”

Source: https://flic.kr/p/dryrWw

If Beth’s points about moving away from the teacher-centered, traditional mode of instruction are viewed as valid, what, then, become of the teacher’s role? I have a few roles I think are as or even more important in a BLE:

  • Stage Setter. There is a real art in catching hold of the imagination and engaging students in learning. Teachers should be skilled at asking head-scratcher questions, provoking debate, stimulating questions, etc. This is also where scaffolding and differentiation of instruction can take place.
  • Resource Gatherer. The teacher likely has a broader range of sources for information or creating/sharing products than many students. Once a student is hooked and engaged in learning/doing, the teacher should actively provide the tools (websites, books, software, outside experts, etc.) to get them where they want to be (as needed).
  • Model Learner. Students are not born with the complete set of skills needed to be powerfully equipped, independent learners of everything. Teachers should model skills such as asking deep, open-ended questions, evaluating the quality & usefulness of information, organization, effective communication strategies, collaboration skills, empathy, and more.
  • Co-Pilot. Even enthusiastic learners engaged in powerful, student-driven learning often benefit from redirection. The teacher in a BLE should be actively communicating and monitoring every learner to identify misconceptions or guide students to more effective strategies, resources, etc.
  • Assessment PartnerUnless the robots take over, the teacher will always play the key role in the assessment of student learning, both formative and summative. In a BLE, students’ roles in assessing their own learning and doing should be amplified, but the teacher should be the highest authority in classroom assessment.
  • Motivator. The best teachers have always made children hungry to learn, hungry to achieve. That doesn’t change in a BLE–teachers provide leadership and motivation for learning by helping students understand the power and benefits they can expect. They create a welcoming and positive atmosphere that makes the classroom a desirable place to be.

Blended learning has been proven to be effective and impactful, but it can only reach its potential when the classroom teacher abandons the roles of the past. As Beth states,

“Blended learning can mean a step forward toward something greater—giving students agency over their own learning, but that is dependent on the direction chosen by the teacher.”

Many of our students will embrace the computers, the websites, the iPads, the videos regardless of how we teach, because students simply love the resources. We have to teach differently, better, though, or we should consider spending our education dollars in more worthwhile places.

A 3D Design and Printing High 5 Moment

This is why you write the grant, buy the equipment, train the teachers, and plan the curriculum. 4th  and 5th graders on an after-school robotics team at Rodriguez Elementary had recently learned the basics of 3D design using the Tinkercad platform during their weekly technology applications class. When faced with a robotics challenge of rounding up some objects and holding them in their robot, one team came up with a brilliant idea: design a containment system using Tinkercad and print it with the school’s Dremel Idea Builder 3D printer. A couple of prototypes are seen below.

A final, top-secret version is coming before this weekend’s TCEA Area 13 competition. The team’s coach, an outstanding teacher at the campus, keeps telling me, “They have not spent much time on the programming, so I don’t think they’ll do very well.” Do very well? I’d say they have nailed the innovative spirit of the event perfectly. This is amazing on so many levels:

  • Based upon a real, relevant problem, kids came up with a completely original solution.
  • Students did 100% of the design work, including carefully measuring the dimensions of the robot and the mount where the scoop will be placed.
  • The 4 students worked together as a team and truly collaborated.
  • They made numerous mistakes in their design but pressed on, improving their product each time.

This collectively is what problem solving looks like, and it results in real, enduring learning. The teacher’s role, by the way, was primarily to answer questions and manage the printer–she let the kids develop the expertise here. I’m super proud of this team and look forward to many more moments of this sort in coming days around the district!

UPDATE: The final design, with some significant modifications is seen below. Students will get to put it to the test on Saturday.

Computer Science Education Week Resources

National Computer Science Education Week is fast approaching–December 5-11. I have copied the text of an email I sent to our campus technology teachers to help them plan for the week. I thought there might be some usefulness to others out there wanting some options in terms of ways kids might participate in the week or in Hour of Code. If you have other resources or classroom activities that you have come to find particularly successful, please share them in the comments.

Good afternoon to all,

This one is a bit of a long-winded email, but I ask that you take the time to read it all. I wanted to clarify a few things for our new folks in the Tech Apps family regarding National Computer Science Education Week, December 4-8.

  • That is one of several weeks in the elementary and, I believe, middle school curricula in which we emphasize computer coding. You should already be planning to have kids coding.
  • Starting last year, I invited special area guests to attend a campus and participate in a lesson with kids that week. No big deal–they just come in, see how cute your kids are, and enjoy learning the tool they are using. Oh, and I’m sure a picture or two will be taken. If your campus would like me to try and arrange a guest, I would be happy to. I just need to know some good days and times. Feel free to invite whomever you like, just please keep me in the loop.
  • Speaking of the tool you will be using, here are some options for you to brush up on before then. Choose what fits each group of kids best. I have put an asterisk by the ones most often used in our district.
    • Daisy the Dinosaur — fun, free iPad app teaches basics of computational thinking. Emphasis here is on getting the right steps in the right order to complete challenges. There is also a free-programming mode for kids to experiment.
    • ScratchJr — free companion iPad app to the Scratch website focuses on primary kids. Commands are simplified and fewer in number, icons and sprites (characters) are bigger and more colorful to make it more engaging and user-friendly for younger students.
    • *Code.org — great site has self-guided lessons for absolutely any age group, from the kindergartener still trying to master the mouse and keyboard to the high school kid ready to tackle javascript. It is free, and you can set up your classes with an easy upload. The site gives you usernames and passwords–bonus!
    • *Scratch — if your kids are ready for more open-ended learning, maybe upper elementary and middle school, Scratch is a great tool to use. There are tons of how-to vids and lessons out there to help them (and you) get started. Accounts are necessary and free, but there is no bulk upload. You’ll need to do them 1 at a time. Most work is done by arranging blocks for specific tasks, but students can get pretty advanced–things like variables and functions.
    • Code Combat — see the statement above regarding accounts. This fun site does actually require students to type lines of code as they navigate medieval-themed challenges. Students can earn armor and weapons upgrades (Don’t worry–it is comical, not violent.).
    • Swift Playgrounds — fun iPad app that teaches basics of the Swift programming language. Students type code to complete increasingly challenging tasks, all the while learning important coding concepts. Also includes downloadable content to learn to program games, such as Rock, Paper, Scissors or a Running Maze. This is a great step up for middle school kids, and 5th graders would probably also successfully enjoy it. Swift is a great language to learn, because it can be used on any platform, including mobile, desktop, or even the Apple Watch. (Note to middle school peeps–I REALLY like the possibilities for this with middle school kids, and there is a ton of curricula on iTunesU. It might be enough to persuade someone to buy a complete set of iPads for your classes. I plan to lobby for that.)
    • Code Monkey — now included in our Learning.com curriculum, this game-based tutorial teaches kids the basics of coding and the CoffeeScript language and how to create HTML5 games. Probably a bit challenging for the K-4 crowd, but worth a look for older kids already using the Learning.com curriculum.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion. If you feel worried about this unit of study, Code.org is where I would start. It has great classroom curriculum management resources and is super easy to learn. Please do not hesitate to email me if you need help getting set up or just learning the tool you want to use.

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