Tag: edtech (page 1 of 10)

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. 🙂

3D Printing on a Budget–RXS 3D Pen Review

Ever since I first saw the 3Doodler show up on Kickstarter, I have been fascinated with 3D pens. These devices promised to open up a new world of creative possibilities to our students. Demo pictures and videos showed 3D bicycles, Eiffel Towers, unicorns, and more, all created with ease by simply drawing…up.  Well, fast-forward a few years and I will testify that either professional artists were at work making everything look so magically simple, or else I am just very inept. Even so, they continue to amaze and inspire my curiosity and creativity, and I am placing them in all of our elementary campuses,

Today, you can find literally hundreds of different sizes and shapes of 3D pens. While the earliest models ran well over $100, the newest are as inexpensive as $8.  After looking at several review sites and customer reviews, I decided upon the RXS 3D Pen for our elementary maker spaces. The RXS runs around $30, and is one of a big family of clone devices, as one manufacturer apparently supplies a few dozen companies. The large number of reviews and low price would seem to indicate that this is a popular model for the casual hobbyist.

The RXS has some nice features worth noting:

  • Because it can run at multiple temperatures, it supports either PLA or ABS filament. PLA is a low-temp filament made from organicmaterials. It prints shinier and with generally fewer flaws, but it is not as strong as ABS. ABS is oil-based and stronger, but prone to warping and gives off significant odor when melted.
  • Filament speed is easily controlled with a sliding bar on the side of the pen. Slower speeds allow greater control and precision. I think students will be more successful with the pen set to the slower speeds, particularly as they get used to the techniques involved in its use. Higher speeds, at least for me, tend to result in sculptures of spaghetti.
  • Loading and unloading are easily accomplished with buttons on the side of the pen, with the loading button also being the control to dispense the melted filament. It feels very natural and comfortable.

I have honestly not encountered any major issues with the pen, which is a very pleasant surprise given the low price point. The only cautions are the strong fumes given off by the included ABS filaments do require ventilation or an outside workspace, and the tip does get very, very hot, meaning students might be wise to wear gloves.

Overall, while my skills are still questionable (as evidenced to the right), I really like this pen. It is a bargain investment that promises to inspire some very exciting creations!

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.

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.

5 Classroom Strategies to Build STEM/STEAM Skills

One reason I and others promote STEM or STEAM education so passionately goes far beyond the outstanding job opportunities the field affords. Beyond this is the abundance and importance in STEAM of so-called “soft skills”such as problem identification, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. Creating a generation of students who are thusly skilled is not just vital to ensuring competitiveness in the current and future global economy, it equips them for life. This is particularly true when paired with other traits/skills, such as adaptability, organization, empathy, initiative, and grit.  As I am preparing for a talk at the STEAM Academy at TCEA next week, the following are some ideas and classroom strategies to promote STEAM-related skills, including critical thinking and problem solving in any subject area:

  1. Stimulate wonder. In any subject area, teachers should work to create situations that will make students scratch their heads and experience a certain level of confusion leading to curiosity. I don’t want to confuse this idea with what I was taught as a young teacher was the “anticipatory set”, which was basically review at worst and far from engaging or stimulating on a good day. Think of a provocative statement, an argument, a perplexing question, a quick but powerful video, or a dramatic demonstration. Our kids need more opportunities to get really engaged in a topic and experience fascination and wonder.
  2. Solicit questions. Once students have been hooked, get them asking good, probing, open-ended questions.

    Image Source: Right Question Institute

    As discussed here before, this is no given, since students all but forget how to ask such questions by middle school.  Re-teach them using a process such as the Question Formulation Technique and give them daily opportunities to practice.

  3. Be less direct. Let your students sort through processes without so much guidance from you. I know I was very guilty of step-by-stepping most of the labs in my science classroom to death when I was still teaching middle school. The best ones, though, were ones where I followed my own advice above and set the stage with a statement or demonstration, then let the kids figure out how to explain, prove, disprove, etc. on their own or collaboratively.
  4. Forsake the multiple choice. I have heard “assessment experts” defend the venerable A, B, C, or D (all of the above) test format for years, claiming it is poor question design that has weakened the art. I believe anything worth learning cannot be sufficiently expressed and assessed with such a format and with no opportunity to see into the student’s thinking. The product of such assessments has no relevance or meaning in the real world, and is I believe multiple choice assessments are a reflection of teacher laziness or inexperience (Before anyone gets your feathers too ruffled, I was as guilty as anyone. Remember those clickers? Ugh.). Leave the format to the people who are paid big bucks to construct shallow assessments and disengage our kids–the testing companies. Instead, utilize performance and alternative assessments, such as rubrics, face-to-face conferencing, self-assessment, demonstrations/presentations, physical products, etc.
  5. Failure doesn’t end with an “F”. There are times in life when you get one shot to get something right, like choosing when to cross the street in heavy traffic. Most of life outside of school, however, is based on a series of trial-and-error events and choices. Whether designing a science project, solving a math problem,  writing a narrative essay, or learning to shoot a basketball, students need to tackle tasks that require evaluation and improvement. Our obsession with grades (in the face of much research demonstrating their failures) means that we too often give students failing marks for a failed attempt, usually the first attempt, when we should be offering meaningful feedback into the process the student is going through. If your school/district requires grades, use them in conjunction with actual feedback that makes the numbers have actual meaning. But, as I advised a robotics instructor in my own district, be careful not to view a step in the process as the end, and be careful not to see a project that has not met hoped for goals as a failure. I watched a robotics team build no fewer than 20 prototypes of 1 model without achieving their very lofty desired outcome, but the group made strides and learned everything I could have hoped. An “F” would have been both crushing and inappropriate.

This is a work in progress, so please give me any ideas or feedback you might have. If I use your comments/ideas, I will even give you a shoutout in my presentation. Thanks!

STEM students image source: http://www.dfrobot.com.cn/images/upload/Image/20140306141707uca3mg.jpg

Introduction to Robotics, Semester 2 Plans

Our first middle school robotics courses got rolling back in August. It has been a learning experience, but it has mostly been very positive. The curriculum from Carnegie Mellon University via  Robomatter has been very successful. Teachers have sorted out management of robots, charging, etc. Assessment was a concern at first, as our district requires a minimum number of daily and major grades. Those concerns have been addressed by having students complete the curriculum lessons/quizzes, complete frequent reflection tasks in engineering journals, and assessment of completed projects. As for students , they have struggled nicely at times, but for the most part have fought through glitches and design errors to create a variety of successful robots.

A surprise was sprung upon us when we learned that students who are currently enrolled in the course will be allowed to take it for another semester. While this is exciting, it is a challenge, because we don’t have a year’s worth of curriculum materials. So we are having to do a little scrambling. What we are planning to do is to make the class more of a project based, independent learning course for the students who took it in the first semester. I am working to prepare a list of resources and project prompts, with students also having the flexibility to design their own projects. Embedded below is the working document, which will see lots of updates in the coming weeks. Feel free to borrow, and any suggestions are very welcome. I anticipate projects will last anywhere from a couple of days to a month or more, depending upon complexity.

Local Leaders Get Hands-on With Coding

Elementary campuses in Seguin this week have had several visitors attend technology classes to participate in Hour of Code activities. We have been privileged and excited to host current  and former school board members, a city councilperson, the president of our local chamber of commerce, the mayor of Seguin, and our county judge. Our guests tried their hands at a variety of coding tools, including Code.org, CodeMonkey, Lightbot, and CodeCombat, were introduced to the campuses’ 3D printing and design programs, and got a first-hand look at some of the ways the district is trying to give students a wide range of computer science experiences.

Block coding tools like Code.org have been used to intruduce basic concepts.

Block coding tools like Code.org have been used to intruduce basic concepts.

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City Councilwoman Fonda Mathis joined Jenifer Wells’ students at Rodriguez Elementary.

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Trusty Cindy Thomas-Jimenez received pointers from a Rodriguez Elementary coding pro.

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Trustee Ben Amador observes student coders using CodeMonkey at Patlan Elementary.

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20 levels of CodeMonkey have been added to Learning.com resources this school year.

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Code.org resources include educational videos, such as this one featuring one of the founders of the videogame Minecraft.

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Seguin mayor Don Keil joined students at Patlan Elementary for his second Hour of Code.

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Patlan Elementary students are excited about learning about coding!

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Mayor Keil and team work through a particularly challenging task.

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Seguin Councilwoman Fonda Mathis brought her computer science background to Rodriguez Elementary.

Trustee Amador also paid a visit to Mrs. Casiano's lab at Koennecke Elementary, where students were learning Python code using CodeCombat.

Trustee Amador also paid a visit to Mrs. Casiano’s lab at Koennecke Elementary, where students were learning Python code using CodeCombat.

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Trustee Cinde Thomas-Jimenez joined Rodriguez Elementary students in an Hour of Code.

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