Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cart, Horses, and iPads

A district I work with just announced they were ordering sa large number of Dell laptops. One of the key reasons mentioned in the news article announcing this move was the need to have enough machines to conduct state testing. Now, I don't mind assessment and accountability but I do think we need to start considering the impact on school decision making. I do not have a problem with the districts decision making progress, they are facing a reality and need to respond. I am, however, questioning a system in which accountability pressures dictate everything from teacher bonuses to decisions about which technology to buy and what it will be used for.

I will pull a NASCAR metaphor. In racing, crews choose tires to fit the conditions of the road so their driver will have the best chance to win. In education we invest in the photofinish camera instead... Only problem is with the wrong tires the photofinish camera views will be very sad.

As an iPad fan I have a request from Apple. Districts are asking Apple to create an ecosystem that will allow students to participate in assessments on the iPad essentially locking other features so students could not "cheat" (on the nature of cheating another time). I am begging Apple to not succumb to this pressure. If you will create such an ecosystems you will undoubtedly sell more iPads but they will be used in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons. Experience tells us they will have a whole set of closed apps that will disable the joy of exploration and cross validation. At the same time such devices will be unavailable for instruction months each year so students can participate in testing.
It is time to put the horses in front of the cart. It is time to invest in the right tires so all students can get to the finish line.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Teacher Self-Efficacy and Educational Change

Last year my students had iPads in elementary classrooms. The school had a set of iPads that was sitting idle most of the time, yet the teachers were reluctant to integrate them into their instructional units. It was not because they thought they were useless, instead the most common response was: " I do not know how to use them or what to do with them". Now this a response from a few teachers, and our data actually shows that even when there is low level of deployment iPads and iPods are the technologies most easily integrated into the classroom. That said I would like to address the issue of teacher efficacy.
One of the biggest challenges in trying to integrate curriculum using new skill subsets like art and technology seem to hit the same stumbling block. Teachers (and administrators) often do not believe that they know enough to make the change, they do not believe THEY have the capacity. This set of expectations is what Albert Bandura referred to as self-efficacy. The idea that having an expectation of success increases the odds that a person will persist with a task and stay engaged is not new, yet it is powerful. 

Changing expectations is not easy especially in teachers (adults) who have accumulated experience that may point to failure. Teachers come to believe (like many adults) that they cannot draw, play music or sculpt. On the surface they are right- at present state they probably would have limited results. But that is often not what they mean. What they mean is that they lack some innate ability to draw, or sculpt, or use technology. This sense of efficacy about a task limits their ability to explore new ideas and integrate  art, technology or just new ideas like project-based learning. When they do this they deprive their students from exposure to skill sets and new problem solving spaces. 

Students at all levels tend to see their teachers as having a finite and magically acquired knowledge, they seldom see them work through a new skill or solve a new problem. As a result they deprive their students from seeing a model of an individual who is gaining expertise through interaction with a task. Ironically, in this time of accelerated change, our students need thinking and problem solving skills more than at other time in history. We expect that in their life time they would have to repeatedly develop areas of expertise- in a way what Ken Robinson talks about when he discusses creativity.

So what can we do? I see the answer along two lines. the first is giving teachers the knowledge and skill so they would engage with more confidence while they learn to work in conditions of ambiguity. We did this in our ArtsLINC grant with what we called the studio experiment. Teachers were invited to participate in studio experiences with a teaching artist so they can feel confident (efficacious) integrating visual art production in their classroom. It was a great success.

The second is changing efficacy orientation. That is shifting in thinking and deed from the individual to the collective. Collective-efficacy is the notion that as a group we can tackle a task. This is very different because now I can estimate whether a group effort is successful. Data from research I have conducted a few years back showed that when teachers feel that they can tackle teaching reading for all students as a school they have better student outcomes. Not just that but their collective feeling predicted student result better than their personal efficacy.

So, to move ahead with the kind of school change that our students deserve teachers must have opportunities to learn, experiment, and enjoy a sense of collective efficacy that says- together, with our different skill sets, we can do it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

You Think Technology is the Answer to Everything!

My wife and I had a discussion a few days ago about high school requirements in our school district. I highlighted the fact that the requirements include four years of English, more than any other subject. Unlike the current national mood that seems to channel everything to math and science our district has stood firm on Humanities while increasing the requirements in math and science. Off hand I commented that I hoped that some digital literacies were included in these four years. My wife said "You think technology is the answer to everything!" There was quite a bit of emotion in the statement but that may have had more to do with the dishes in the sink...

I paused and thought "I think technology is the question, not the answer". Her response is probably a testament to what I talk about at home. My mind has been focused on art and technology integration for the better part of a decade now- so I understand my wife's exasperation with the comment. At the same time her comment echoed one made by one of my colleagues recently. In a conversation about technology he said that ultimately we need evidence that the integration of new technologies impact student learning. By that, of course, he meant learning as measured in traditional ways.

I think that both comments come from the same place. The underlying assumption is that technology is part of an educational solution. That it is supposed to solve old problems. I argue that technology can sometimes do it, but it also has a broader application. To be fully integrated we need to teach our students to participate in this digital world. Art is exactly the same, it can often be integrated so it can help achieve in other domains (in our research writing and vocabulary knowledge) but ultimately it helps build well rounded students who thrive in life and not just math.

Digital media, just like the arts, created new ways to express ourselves and to BE. It is omnipresent and have become part of the fabric of our everyday life in a way that transcends the notion of a tool. As a result digital media should part of school curriculum not as a tool but as a mode of learning and being.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dragons and the Curse of the 99₵ App

As I sift through hundreds of apps for our iPad in the classroom podcast I am occasionally surprised by quality apps. In our TechEDGE conference yesterday Rob McEntarffer from Lincoln Public Schools showed me DragonBox. In this brilliant app (see geek Dad review) students learn algebra in a way that "sneaks up" on them. It teaches them algebra principles through a true game environment (bringing Gee's vision to life) . Such brilliant apps are rare because they are brilliant. But in effect most of the educational apps have limited learning value. Most have limited content and focus on drill in ways that leave the educator in me cringing and hoping for more.

The problem though may be that the app store set the income margin too low. Right now an app for 5.99 is expensive and gives purchasers pause. The dominant modes are free and 99 cent apps. I just wonder if developers can create and maintain quality educational apps at these prices. I have gone through more than a thousand educational apps in the last year and I can answer with a "not yet". There are some great apps but most fail even my basic criteria to be useful.

I believe that mobile devices with an emphasis on tablets are going to be dominant in education in the next decade maybe even longer. Apps are an important part of this ecosystem but to be useful we need a bigger pool of great apps that serve students need to learn.

The lesson from the print news industry is that new pricing models connected with technology seem to create changes that are irreversible. Some companies are trying to buck this trend by creating educational subscriptions e.g. Footsteps 2 Brilliance and BrainPop.
This is an interesting direction that I hope can be successful but here I want to identify here other possible solutions.

As we discuss flipping classroom I would like to suggest flipping the curriculum and professional development equation. That is, providing the materials for free (or for a nominal sum say 99¢) and charging for backend services such as professional development and data services. This is a concept I have written about before and I think can potentially be viable. The Dynamic Indicators of Basics Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) seem to have successfully followed this model providing the assessment for free but charging for training, data services and optional assessment materials. While it is a not-for-profit organization it still proves the concept.

An effort like this may benefit from a partnership with a university combining the entrepreneurship of start-ups and the educational know-how of university faculty. This combination can make excellent products for the educational market that mesh gaming concepts and excellent content that lead kids to learn.

Finally, states and districts can choose to partner with universities and invest in creating digital materials to replace the commercial curricula altogether. Such efforts would require upfront costs but may actually reduce the dependence on commercial products and save districts significant amounts of money that can then be invested in professional development and emerging learning technologies.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Current and Future Teachers Reflecting on iPad Use

We have used iPads in the Reading Center all summer. I decided to include unedited comments of some of my students who agreed to share the comments.

         Using the iPad during class helped me become more comfortable with technology. I have never used technology in the school setting before. It also helped me know what was available as far as apps and how wonderful they can be in assisting with learning. I won't have an iPad available for use next year, but I am seriously considering buying one. I think it is a wonderful way to enhance classroom learning and get kids ready for the future. I particularly liked the iCard Sort and eBook Magic apps for what I do now. I can see how Show Me would be a great way to present lessons as well.
        The iPads were a huge help during this session. Not only did it give variety, but it helped motivate my student to learn.  I don't think he writing would have come as far if we hadn't been able to publish his work.  He was so proud that it was a book that he wanted to keep writing.  He even decided to write a chapter book and as a second grader, that's big.  I was able to use the iPad for things we could have done on paper, but worked better using technology.  Sam was more engaged when we used the iPad than when we worked with a pencil and paper.  I would definitely keep using the iPads for this class.
          I would use them to record important lessons in case kids are gone or if I'm gone.  You always have to review and if you can give the iPad to a child or a group of children and have them review or learn what they didn't before, that can save you time.  Then, you can go back and talk with them about what they heard and saw.  I would use the internet to show kids how we could research topics.  I would use the eBook Magic app to publish their work and encourage more writing.  I would also use the iPad for revisions.  The kids could type up what they have and correct it, saving paper, while still having the drafts available.  I didn't have a ton of apps on my iPad, but I would also ask my colleagues what apps they have found helpful and use them as much as is educational in my class. 
The iPads used during my teaching was such a great experience! It has allowed me to learn how to apply it in a classroom setting and how to select appropriate Apps for my students. This was one of the highlights for me during this summer session. I wasn't familiar with the iPad prior to this class, even though I had it in another class. Now I am going to purchase one because I realize that this is going to be a necessity for me in my instruction  for my classroom. 
           If iPads and other technologies are available at my school, I will come back to the learning center to ask for help if I do not understand how to use it. I find that this is something I desire to learn and apply to my teaching strategy. Students can be learning the same thing on different levels with iPads. I find that I am able to gain access to resources and students need this as we are entering into one of the most exciting times in education with technology. I am excited to see how technology is going to change the learning experience for classrooms. It want to participate in this process. I will use the iPad for assessments, work stations, connecting community and classroom,  grading, homework, creating lessons and anything that will cause my students to learn. 
           The iPads were such a great thing to get to use. I had never used one in any other class and so it was a learning experience for me as well. It helped with all of my lessons because he would get tired of writing a story and so we would create one in puppet pals or in ebook magic. He was still having to come up with the ideas, it was just more interactive this way. Also brain breaks were so easy to do with an iPad because the games were right there and they were educational.
          If iPads and other technologies are available at your school, how do you anticipate using them?
I really like the educreations app. I would use that to create my lesson plans and if students weren't sure on what they learned, they could go back and watch/listen to it again. It's also a great way to make the class interactive. Having that in the palm of  your hand and can look up anything at any time is beneficial overall. Students can create documents and share them, students can check in/out, and it's just a really great resource to have.
          The iPad has been extremely useful in the tutoring session and allowed e to really explore the possibilities and have practical applications for them.
If there is iPad use in the school I will be in I will be extremely excited because it allows me to teach students and give them a more immersive experience. Allowing them to have more connectivity and having more feedback right away to help me as a teacher design my lessons to help my students more.
          I think the ipads helped me learn more about using technology in the educational field. With the way society is today, by the time I become a teacher, every school could possibly have ipads and technology like Ipads. So, having the training with ipads is really beneficial as I will have a boost ahead of someone who does not have the training. I anticipate using ipads by using them as a motivator and literacy stations. Using an activity that is fun yet educational at the same time, makes learning fun for students. 

Couldn't haver said it better myself...