Tag: education (page 1 of 21)

What IS School For?

Our Matador Innovative Teaching Academy participants are winding up their first book study, discussing What School Could Be, by Ted Dintersmith. In the discussion materials on the book’s website, I came across this video, which I promptly sent out to our innovative teachers and our district leadership. It is a fundamental question that, frankly, we don’t really hash out like we should: What is school for? Watch the video and think about it. Talk with your colleagues, your students, your stakeholders, and see how tough it is to come up with a consensus on the topic. Share your answer in the comments, if you reach a conclusion!

Traits of the Greats

Now that we’re back in school, I’ve had the chance to engage in some great conversations with some really strong teachers, observe some wonderful classes, and even do a little teaching (still a blast!). These experiences have served once again to remind me that powerful learning is not the product of thousands of dollars of laptops, or ipads, or robots, or textbooks, or online curricula, or any of this stuff. What makes a great educator and remarkable classroom so exciting and motivating, and  the learning super-sticky begins with things we can’t submit a PO for:

  • Creativity – great teachers do fantastic, engaging things that meet kids where they are and take them where they haven’t even imagined they could be. These experiences can’t come from exclusively following a textbook or a prescribed curriculum (both can be valuable resources, though).
  • Humor – the ability to smile and laugh is almost universal among great educators (my junior high math teacher excluded). Laughing is good for the soul and the mind, releasing chemicals that actually help us learn. Teachers who “don’t smile until Christmas” probably have learners who learn nada until Christmas.
  • Humility – related to the above, this sometimes involves the ability to laugh at one’s self. It definitely involves being able to admit mistakes, to embrace that we don’t have ALL of the answers, and to allow kids to know more about things than even we do sometimes.
  • Flexibility – teach in the moment and be willing to shift gears are make a radical 180-degree turn if the situation calls. If the learners aren’t responding, it is easy to blame them or their cell phones or the full moon. Be willing to scrap the plans and go in another direction as students’ responses or interests dictate.
  • Empathy – perhaps the greatest skill a master teacher has is the ability to put themself into the shoes (and mind and heart) of the student. Understanding what experiences they have had, what motivates them, what challenges them–these are fundamental to creating learning experiences that “fit” the child.
  • Grit – the teacher who never gives up, no matter the arguments for such a path, is the one who changes everything. It is about believing that kid can learn that skill or concept and going to any length to get them there.
  • Trust – amazing ideas won’t come in an environment of fear or mistrust. Students (and teachers) should be willing to try crazy ideas and, potentially, fall on their faces as a result. This mandates a teacher who won’t pounce on every mistake .
  • Love – the belief that the kid is the most important person in the room, and you will do anything to help them be happy and successful. It is protective, it is nurturing, it disciplines, it serves. It may sound cliche, but it is the thing that makes the best teachers who they are.

Here is to you, my fellow educator–thank you for all you do for all of our kids. May you have an amazing, impactful year filled with students’ wonder, marvel, surprise, and joy!

Hang Up? Crawfishing (a Little) on BYOD

For years, I have been an avid supporter and advocate of BYOD. Specifically, I have argued that students’ smartphones were powerful, pocket-sized computers with high-speed internet capable of connecting, creating, engaging. They were a fabulous solution to the very significant problems of digital divide. Schools lacking in computers or infrastructure would no longer be shackled by the technologies they lacked–just get out your pocket PCs, kids!

Lately, though, I must admit that I wonder about this idea and really have been questioning the validity of my beliefs. I more and more frequently encounter news stories and blog posts about schools or even entire countries abandoning their phone-friendly policies. Policy makers have decided the competition for students’ attention, the distractions, the discipline problems, the effects on student emotions were all too high of a price to pay for any positives the devices might promise. Surprisingly, their arguments against the devices in the classroom are starting to resonate a lot more with me.

Some experts, such as the folks at Common Sense Media, have determined that teens spend an average of 9 hours per day looking at a digital screen. I will testify that at least seems pretty accurate in my own household, even if I haven’t put a timer to it. Life is intently focused on a screen of some sort the vast majority of waking hours, riding in the car, sitting in their rooms, eating a snack, etc. The majority of the time, my kids, wife, and I are thumbing robotically through Instagram, watching YouTube or Netflix videos, checking Snapchat, or something similar.

I will say that the number and range of topics that my kids are learning about is sometimes really amazing. This is especially true for Reilly, my son, who watches videos on every topic under the sun. Also, I have much appreciation for the way that my kids are able to stay connected to their friends, particularly during the summer, as we live a half hour from most of them. I can completely understand my son’s penchant for gaming, as I enjoy an admittedly smaller variety of games almost as much. We ditched cable and satellite television a few years ago, too, so much of their phone time is a substitute for former television hours. All that to say I recognize there is considerable value, for sure.

On the other hand, though, it is unrealistic to deny that there are significant problems that come along with the devices’ constant presence. One that I think is most significant is the devices’ tendency to become the attention priority of the user. In other words, the user is so distracted by the device that he/she cannot maintain focus on anything or anyone else. Just try to count the number of times in a day when someone checks their phone while having a face-to-face interaction with someone. I’ve sure been guilty of it. Watch families/friends sitting together at restaurants. We see it (maybe take part) constantly–groups become zombies making idle chit-chat while staring at PewDiePie on their new iPhone or Galaxy. A 2018 study by Common Sense Media revealed more than half of teens acknowledged that phones distracted them in negative ways. Additional research by Common Sense shows that not only do a large number of kids check their social media feeds pretty much constantly, the negative outcomes (hateful comments, posts not being “liked” enough, etc.) more profoundly affect the kids already facing social/emotional problems.

For the teacher optimistic enough to try and use them in the classroom, a particular challenge I have heard about endlessly since basically the debut of the iPhone in 2007 is management. Even teachers who are still open-minded or enthusiastic about the possibilities struggle with ensuring that they are being used in purposeful, learning-focused ways. For a teacher who may not be experienced or especially skilled at general classroom management, this becomes an even bigger issue. I know that I and countless colleagues in the edtech world have attempted to share effective management strategies, but the dismal tales persist.

What’s the point to all of this then? Well, I suppose it is that I am probably less convinced of the power of student devices in the classroom than I was a decade ago, when my former superintendent abruptly declared our district to be a BYOD environment. Certainly, there have been some cool moments of real success, from creative student video productions to collaborative documents to engaging formal assessment and feedback apps and many more. I won’t begin to argue against those. I think, though, that more than a decade’s time passing should have ironed out many more of the wrinkles in the plan and the process. It hasn’t, and I still hear more negative feedback than positive (Okay, maybe complainers are just more…expressive.). I am currently running a Twitter survey to gauge my PLN’s feelings on student phones in the classroom and already seeing some interesting results.  My mind is far from made up, and reflection is critical to my own professional practice, so I’m going to keep mulling the pros and cons of this issue for awhile. As always, I would welcome and respect your thoughts and comments!

Team 3D Design and Printing Challenges

Image source: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/interview-dana-foster-3d-printing-education-18133/

3D printers have been the absolute rage in education and in maker spaces for a few years now.  While the printer itself is a magical and fascinating piece of science and technology, the price tag makes it imperative that we use the printers to engage students in activities that will help them grow more creative, adept at solving problems, and skilled at applying knowledge across the curriculum. In order to have a justifiable reason to pay $500, $900, $2000, or even more for a 3D printer, there needs to be a higher purpose, laser-focused on student learning. The following are just a few ideas that might stimulate your own, better plans to get kids engaged in design thinking and applying content knowledge as they work with design teams to create original 3D models.

  • All Together Now. Split class into teams who will design and print separate components of a single project. For example, teams might be producing the doors, roof, window, interior walls, or exterior walls of a model house. They might create components of a small toy, such as a car or action figure. The emphasis here is on effective communication between groups and precise calculations, as poorly planned or executed parts will not fit. This is very similar to actual manufacturing today, where components of the same object are often made on opposite sides of the globe.

    Not my favorite idea!!

  • A Better Mousetrap. Have students design a simple and effective humane mousetrap. Students will need to apply knowledge of biology and simple physics in order to lure, trap, and keep their quarry until it is relocated to a new home (Pro tip: Probably not a good idea to test by letting live mice loose in the classroom.)
  • Baby Shark Tank. Student teams design a simple, easily reproducible and customizable object to sell for a class fundraiser or to raise money for a charitable cause. Teams will pitch their idea to a committee of teachers, volunteers, or other students. Those chosen as best will be produced and sold for the designated cause. In addition to the technology and design skills being developed, through the planning and marketing of their idea, students will build math, speech, and writing skills.
  • Base-ic Math. Every math teacher has a set of base-10 blocks somewhere in their room. In this challenging activity, have students create blocks to represent different math systems, such as base-4, base-25, etc. This is a great way to really reinforce student understanding of a challenging math concept.
  • Even Better. Find an existing design and improve it. There are countless sites online where students can find and download free 3D designs. Have them use an existing design, such as a pencil holder, a drinking cup, or plastic toy, and work with their team to make it more practical, stronger, more aesthetically appealing, or just plain cooler. Daniel Pink’s chapter on Design in A Whole New Mind might be a good text to accompany this activity.
  • Now We’re Cookin’. Teams will design or re-engineer a utensil to perform a specific kitchen task. For example, students could create a stopper to keep opened canned soft drinks from losing their fizziness. They could create a chip bowl scoop that lets dining guests get chips without using their hands or without the frustration of using tongs (which just destroy the chips, am I right?). They could create a pepper corer that protects skin from jalapeño juice. Students could begin by interviewing parents, grandparents, or even professional cooks and asking what tasks frustrated them. They will get to practice effective communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
  • All Geared Up. Students will work together to create a machine that using no more than 4 gears to produce the highest gear ratio they can. In other words, turning 1 full turn of a gear produces as many turns as they can design of a final gear. This is the principle that makes one crank of a bicycle pedal spin  the back wheel several times. They could also try to turn their work into a useful object, such as an efficient fan, “motorized” toy, etc. This is a relatively easy to grasp challenge but has a lot of practical knowledge of simple machines and physics involved.

Hopefully, these are helpful as starting points for student design and will inspire you or your students to bigger and better applications. If you have ideas you would want to share, please include them in the comments, and I will put them into the post.

Make Your Words Visible: Lumen5

In need of a spark of creative energy, I checked out this great post by Kathleen Morris over on The Edublogger. I found a prompt that mentioned making a blog post into a video using a tool called Lumen5. This tool uses AI to create attractive videos by pairing and animating images or GIFs with pieces of text. The text can either be copied and pasted or pulled from a link. So, for example, a student could link to a blog post and create a very cool video in just a few seconds. In fact, Lumen5 lets users add a site or blog’s RSS feed to automatically create a new video whenever a new post or article is added. You can go in and pic specific design styles, change images/GIFs, choose music, etc. as needed, but it really does a pretty amazing job automatically.

Lumen5 does require membership to use, but you can currently join for free and create unlimited videos. Paid subscriptions allow for HD rendering and removes branding (in the form of a slide at the end of each show) from videos. Paid subscriptions also allow for the creation of collaborative teams, while free accounts do not.

I dug up a recent, quickie blog post and created the following in less than 15 minutes the first time I signed on:

I have to say that I really like the potential here. Like most folks, I will admit I am more likely to watch a catchy video than read a long treatise, at times. I like how this opens up both options. One tiny improvement that would be useful is the ability to embed videos in blog posts. While they can be automatically shared to multiple social media sites, I cannot find a way to embed beyond downloading a copy, uploading it to Youtube, and embedding the video from there.

Student Internet Access in Seguin ISD

As a part of our ongoing process of self-evaluation and planning for the future of technology here in Seguin ISD, we recently conducted a quick, 4-question survey to determine patterns of students’ internet use outside of the school day. Over 1,700 students in grades 3-12 participated. The results are below.

A few initial observations:

  • The basically 9:1 ratio of student internet uses to non-users is pretty much what I would have expected. This tells me that we still need to be looking for options for our students without access, as they are certainly limited once they leave our buildings.  It also should be something teachers are aware of, and it should inform their decision-making when assigning homework that requires online resources. We have come far, but the divide still exists. How might we creatively close the gap outside of our buildings?
  • Slower internet speeds and data limits on cellular connections make accessing excessive amounts of video or other media online problematic. This is a potential issue for more than 40% of our students.
  • Fewer and fewer students are using traditional laptops or desktops as their home internet-access device. Mobile phones and tablets are much more common. Still, schools tend to focus budget dollars on desktops/laptops. That might be a practice we need to rethink. Might our technology dollars be better directed at non-traditional tools?
  • The “None of these” option under types of devices doesn’t just include kids with no internet at home–many kids use gaming consoles, devices such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, or a variety of other tools.

Other thoughts, reactions, or questions I might be missing? Happy to hear your comments.

 

20 Secondary Blogging Prompts

Here are a few prompts to get the creative juices flowing for your secondary students, including several related to issues plucked from recent headlines. Some are for deep thinkers, others are…well…not so much. But writing should be enjoyable, anyway!

  • As of 2018, student loan debt in the US stands at over $1,500,000,000,000. The average cost of a public school bachelors degree is nearing $100,000, and a private school will set a graduate back almost $200,000. Is a 4-year college degree worth the price in today’s society?
  • Review the most recent book you read or movie you watched.
  • Are there situations when it is expected that we put on a different persona than our true selves? Is this a good or bad thing?
  • Describe your favorite sports-related moment.
  • What do you think of your schedule this year? Will you be able to focus on what is most important to you? How can it be more manageable?
  • What life lessons can be gleaned from Napoleon Dynamite?
  • What is your favorite musician or group? Why do you like them?
  • Recently, several prominent people have faced consequences for old social media posts (e.g. James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy director). Should we be held accountable for our words, even words spoken or written years ago?
  • Helen Keller stated, “The highest result of education is tolerance.” What do you think? Why is this true or untrue?
  • Describe a time when a personal failure became a positive experience.
  • In response to the ongoing debate over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys recently stated that anyone wanting to play for his team would “stand for the anthem, toe on the line.” Should a private business owner be allowed to enforce a policy like this one?
  • Should all students be required to take algebra to graduate?
  • Watch the video below and discuss your views on homework. Do you feel teachers assign too much? Not enough?

  • What changes, if any, should be made to the current school dress code?
  • Would you be better or worse off if you were to get rid of all of your social media accounts?
  • Which is more important, creativity or knowledge?
  • If you could go to lunch  (their treat!) with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
  • Would you be open to having a small computer implanted into your body to monitor your daily activities at all times, if the device promised to detect illnesses or other threats to your health at the earliest possible moment?
  • Complete the following using no more than 50 words: If you want to achieve greatness…
  • Describe the earliest memory you have.
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