There is a new video about educational technology and reform that is all over social media this week (see below). It’s a well-produced, nicely narrated, and basically says nothing that hasn’t been said for decades. It asserts that, essentially, ed tech’s potential to reform is limited to a small degree by the type of media and to a much bigger one by the way the teacher creates the learning environment. As Will Richardson points out in a comment after the video, this is Dewey, Papert, Montessori, etc. There are heavy influences of Mayer’s theories on multimedia and learning. All of which is fine, but the video’s creator stops there, and really offers nothing new or nearly radical enough to truly “revolutionize education,” as the title promises.
Same chapter, different verse. Reform will not come through social learning experiences, focused, concerted attention on curriculum, rigor, standards, data analysis, letting kids sit on yoga balls, etc. We’ve been doing that. It isn’t working, yet we keep trying harder. The word “change” means “to make or become different.” This isn’t different–it’s re-labelled, louder. Will nails it when he asserts that different in education is for us to do something very uncomfortable and radical– to unclench our grips on the profession and our students. He comments, “The bigger issue I have here is that it says nothing about transferring the agency of learning to the learner.” This means handing control over, actually letting kids determine the course and style of their learning. Will rightly contends that meaningful, sticky learning occurs when students are actually self-driven learners, exploring things that interest and mean something to them. In his latest blog post, he shares a passage from Seymour Papert in which Dr. Papert describes education as it exists today as being unnatural and structured in a way that is nothing like native learning. He explains that teachers are constantly pulled between the rigid, technical structures imposed by the system of education and their desire to make learning meaningful and learner-centered, even natural. I often jokingly describe my job as “Director of Non-Compliance”, and I really do see a big part of my job as being to help teachers struggle against the limitations of the system. Back in 1994, when he wrote The Children’s Machine, Papert had the foresight to know that the technology tools I share had the potential to either complete the entrapment of our students in our expectations and structures or liberate them to take control of their own destinies. He was spot-on, and all one has to do is visit multiple campuses, classrooms, labs, etc. to see this played out to either extreme. The astounding intelligence and capacities of our technologies has the potential to free our students from our out-dated and limiting expectations. If we come to grips with the idea that there is no ideal curriculum, no checklist of state standards that will satisfactorily prepare our kids for their tomorrows, technology, books, the classroom, other learners–all can become tools for exploring, connecting, creating, inventing, imagining, and learning. This, by the way, has to become the school model, not just an activity tucked in an hour here or a day there. It begins with an examination of what we want from our schools and our kids’ learning. If, as many would assert, we want “21st Century Skills”, life skills, discipline skills, or whatever label we choose here in 2014, our kids need daily chances to actually DO them.
Here is a challenging but worthwhile exercise. Imagine your own ideal classroom, with no limits but your imagination. Try to envision something beyond the system you and I came up through. What does it look like? What are the kids doing and who decided what they would be doing? Where are you, and what role are you playing? What is technology used for in your class? If it’s hard for us as educators to go to a truly new place, it’s no small stretch to say it’s darned near impossible for educational policymakers to do so. If, however, we really want things to change for the better, this is what reform must become–education must “become different”.
One more thing occurred to me even as I wrote this. This applies to the hottest thing out there, the flipped classroom, in a big way. Flipped classrooms still most often dictate the what of learning, the when, and the how. While it may be a good strategy to maximize our instructional time, it is nowhere near the type of reform I’m talking about here and it is far from being about giving students power.
The following are suggested activities for robotics programs. They range from the fairly simple to surprisingly complex. I like these because they all can be related to some type of real-world problem situation where robots might be employed as a solution. For example, the dark navigation problem: robots might be used to navigate dark, inhospitable environments where sensors beyond visual must be relied upon. I think most of them will be great opportunities for students to “fail forward”, too, as they progress through designs and programs to solve each problem.
I am always on the lookout for more activities of this nature, so please don’t hold back–share yours in the comments.
Just uploaded a new episode of the Moss Free Show entitled 6 Skills You Should Have. That’s have, as in already. These are baseline, starter-level skills that all educators (administrators included) should possess by this time. I was inspired after reading about 10 different such articles and blog posts this week, some with as many as 33 skills teachers need (You see–I’m actually much more concise than you gave me credit for!). These kinds of posts are extremely abundant the past few months. I found examples from Discovery, Edudemic, THE Journal, Edutopia, just to name a few. As I read, I started to see that the vast, diverse skills were connected by just a few, broader categories, and this podcast/blog post was born. In summary, the 6 skills are:
I explore these 6 to a little greater depth in the podcast below. Give it a listen and let me know–did I leave anything out? Am I way off or getting close?
The latest Moss Free Show went up today, The Maker Space Starter Kit. I discuss inexpensive tools that can make up the raw materials to get a school or classroom maker space started.
BYOD (Bring your own device) initiatives have been around for more than a decade now in one form or another in schools and businesses. As I conduct workshops or engage in conversations with teachers on using student-owned mobile devices in the classroom, there is almost universal agreement as to the incredible potential of today’s pocket-sized supercomputers. There is, certainly, some trepidation, as well–questions regarding discipline, management, privacy, theft, etc. The thing is, while these concerns are not unjustified by any means, we are not blazing a new trail here. Thousands of classrooms have gone before us, and there is a mounting evidence in the research of the benefits to students of the well-planned BYOD program. For those on the precipice, here are 3 painless ways to test the waters when school starts this year.
1. Student Planning/Scheduling –Instead of having students copy assignments off of the dry-erase board or projector screen every Monday morning, as is the ritual in countless classes, have them use their cell phones’ calendar apps to save assignments, due dates, etc. As quickly as young fingers nimbly text on their tiny keyboards, this isn’t likely to take up more time than having them use paper and pen. It’s also more reflective of what most college students or adults would do in 2014. My daughter’s principal told me last week that students at her middle school will do this starting this fall–kudos to Mr. Garza for a great first step.
2. Class Backchannel –Using free tools like Todaysmeet, Google Forms, Twitter, etc., teachers can easily leverage student devices to gather student observations, understandings, and questions. These can be used for quick formative assessment during class to re-direct activities or instruction as needed to clarify or correct misunderstandings. By creating a unique class hashtag (e.g. #mrsmithsmath), Twitter goes from a potential distraction to a very powerful group discussion tool, and it is not necessary for users to follow one another to utilize a common hashtag. Just search for the hashtag within Twitter and see the entire discussion at once.
3. Podcasting –Class podcasts, especially audio podcasts, are very easy to create and provide a powerful tool for archiving student learning, sharing creative works, communicating news, and more. If you’re still not sure what a podcast is, it’s like a TV or radio series, only based on the web. Here’s an example by an educator friend, Technlandia. The great news is that it doesn’t take incredible techiness to be able to put together a show like this. Basically, you or your students record an audio file and upload it to a host site, like Podbean or Podomatic. Even easier, try a tool like Audioboo for Education. Audioboo’s app is ridiculously simple to use. Students can quickly record, title, tag, and upload audio podcasts to their own or a class podcast. Ease into the idea by having a student record announcements into a daily/weekly class podcast, then move on to letting a student share a short summary of the day’s lesson(s) at the end of class, share their writing, etc.
These aren’t flashy, but they’re easy to get you and your students started. The aim is to give students opportunities to leverage the bigger capabilities of their phones and get students viewing their phones as something more than entertainment or 24/7 pipelines to their friends. Not an easy task, but management gets easier as the novelty fades. I’ve heard of teachers using many different strategies to varying effect. At the outset, a simple technique is to require phones to be left face-down on the desk’s corner when not being used instructionally.
If you’re planning on giving BYOD a shot this year, good luck! It’s likely to be a learning process, as with any resource, and you and your kids will come to see ways to use the devices naturally and effectively with practice.