Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ten Ways to Use Pokemon Go in your Classroom this year

You may or may not be a Pokemon player. Either way as Pokemon Go fever sweeps the world it can serve us well to understand it and find ways to make it useful in our classrooms. And, NO, I do not mean use it as a reward. We have been here before with Minecraft so you can definitely take some of the ideas and use with other games as well.

1. Make them write fan fiction about Pokeomn Go adventures.
When it is appropriate let and even encourage students to write about Pokemon Go. Students often lack detail in their writing, Pokemon Go can be a great catalyst to adding details to a story. The complexity and richness of the Pokemon world can also encourage students to write fan fiction stories that spean multiple chapters. The advantage of supporting longer more complex writing is conducive to writing development, new and rich vocabulary and reading comprehension.
2. Make them write tips or steps.
Expository writing is often hard for students. One expository task is writing directions. I have seen many students struggle to write out directions for making a sandwich. Instead, we could challenge our students to write out the steps to achieving a goal on Pokemon Go. Imagine the direction to hatching a Pokemon egg, or getting your squirtle to evolve. If you know nothing about Pokemon, that's OK, your students can generate these ideas very readily.
3. Make a directions video.
This is very similar to the previous point but this time the composition is multi modal. Students can use still frames or video of a partner playing to create those. They can even narrate and edit the video teaching 21st century composing skills.
This will create a sense of audience and provide examples of products

4. Learn about cultural or art sites.
POkemon Go relies on public sites. Ask your students to report on the sites available in the community. Students can write down the sites and then research the site, artist and significance.
You can use non- gaming apps like Google Maps or paper alternatives.

5. Work on the metric system and conversions.
Poekemon Go is metric. This is a great opportunity to discuss metric measurement and their conversion. This is great because I hear that metric is important for science.
6. Discuss the value of effort and learning from experience.
When we develop Grit in students we emphasize the role of persistence and coping with failure. Make students relate their efforts on Pokemon Go. Every one of them will have a story of persevernce that you can then turn into a story about academics.
7. Gamify your classroom with Pokemon Go like idea.
This is definitely for those ready to use game mechanics in their classroom. You will need to get at least a rudimnetary sense of the game before you start. I can easily see a classroom in which workstations are poke stops generating tokens for completed works. The tokens can be converted to Pokemon eggs. Hatching eggs can be related to number of pages read, homework completion- you name it. Leaderboards would also be helpful.
8. Create a Pokemon Go diary.
Have students write a daily diary about Pokemon or other daily activities. The richness of their experiences can help support their notion of strategic thinking and problem solving- if you help them occasionally to think in those terms.
9. Use Pokemon go ideas to teach about observation in nature (bird watching, animal watching etc.
10 Teach self-regulation with devices using activity journaling.
Maybe the hardest challenge in teaching 21st century kids is the difficulty in teaching self monitoring of device use. A way to negotiate this difficulty is to ask students to log in their device use as a way to start thinking about how much and for what ourpose they use the phone. Manuaaly logging the information in is crucial because it makes them actively think about their use.

In short I belive we can use popular games to support learning of skills and as a way to update our classrooms and make them more engaging!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Three (Plus) Collaboration Apps I Use Every Day

1. Google Drive
There is nothing like it! No one has figured out how to enable real-time digital collaboration like Google did. At the composing and creating phase, I do everything in google drive and especially in google docs. The ability to travel in time in a single fully integrated documents has made collaboration seamless and always a blended experience. Even when I work right next to colleagues, we all look at the same product. In the days before the Google suite, we shuttled documents back and forth often losing the flow at one point or another.

2. Video Conferencing
I did not name one such app because I use different ones with different collaborators. Since I am fairly adept at technology, I use whatever others are used to. That is why I use: Adobe Connect, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and even Facetime. If I were pressed, I would name Skype as my most commonly used video conferencing app. This is how I connect to co-authors, students, and potential collaborators.

3. Social Media
Social media is my way to learn from people I do not know (or at least know well). My favorites are Twitter and Google Plus. Twitter has a massive reach, and I find many like minds. The downside is the 140 characters limit that collaboration- and I often find myself frustrated by the speed and brevity. Google Plus is a much smaller community, but I often find that interactions are productive and more enduring.

There are many ways that technology complicates our lives, but in collaboration it allows us to collaborate better and further than ever before.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Power of Gaming- Pokemon Go

There is an ebb and flow in the attitudes and buzz around gaming in education. This week, with the release of Pokemon Go, I saw, once again, the power of gaming in action. Pokemon Go was released. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that allows users to interact with a Pokemon world overlaid on the real world.

My younger kids play it (10,12) of course delighting in the Pokemon they find as we drive around town. My 22-year-old son and 26-year-old nephew are also enjoying it. Reliving parts of their childhood they are interacting and discovering the hidden world around them.

Next to my house there is a park, now visiting the gazebo gives you Pokeballs and the sign is a Poke Gym. Traffic around the park has more than doubled with kids teens and adults stopping to explore the digital and the real.

My point is not to celebrate this particular game. My point is that gaming is something that appeals to the digital generation. This app makes participants move (you need 2K steps to hatch a Pomkemon egg). If done correctly it can generate learning, motivation and a sense of adventure. I can easily see a game app at a museum, sending users to find specific exhibits and discover ideas and histories. There can be a real reward but just as easily you can just have a leaderboard and levels that seem to motivate gamers. Imagine a city creating an app that provides points for each landmark, and cultural event.

Just imagine what we can do!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Writing Tech into Grants? You must read this first!

In the last week, I have been on a panel for a federal grant. I cannot and will not reveal details but I do want to share some advice. In simple terms, grant proposals are supposed to address a pressing need and suggest that there are enough planned supports that would make said action succeed.

The proposals I have been reading have done an admirable job convincing me of their capacity to do everything they said. Except integrate technology. So here are some general rules:

1. Someone needs to manage devices. If you aim to purchase student or even teacher devices, you must show that you have a system that can distribute, manage the devices, provide basic support, and maintain when needed.

2. Technology is not magic (on its own). If you buy new  technology teachers and students have to be educated about its use and supported through modeling, coaching and on-going Professional Development.

3. If technology is a major part of your grant make sure that you hire or show that you have leaders who are well versed in technology integration. In the grant proposals I have been reading, all project directors were content and school experts but nowhere did they show evidence that their professional developers knew much about technology integration.

4. Have a theory of action of why technology will make a difference. Just buying teacher devices, for example, will  NOT automatically improve student achievement. It may, but as the grant writer, you should make the connection obvious.

In short, please treat technology like you would every other aspect of the grant. Technology can be magic but ONLY if you have all the conditions to ensure success.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Are We Ready for Cyborg Ed?

Knee Replacement Vimeo
 I have been recovering from ACL surgery in the last two weeks. As I move (with difficulty) about, many passers-by notice my condition and share their own experiences. As a result, I am much more aware of the number of people who have had knee replacement surgery. The anecdotal information is informative but I was looking for a sense of the data on a US wide perspectives. Over a million operations of knee and hip replacements are conducted annually according to the CDC. If I add pacemakers, stents, and even selective plastic surgery the trend is clear. We are becoming what science fiction used to call cyborgs, a combination of man and machine. It improves our quality of life and increases our life expectancy.

Prosthesis Legs
I believe that mobile technology in the form of phones and tablets is very similar. We always have it with us and we communicate with it constantly. In fact, we have come to rely on digital tools as a way to store information (phone numbers, email addresses, calendar etc) and provide access to information that in the past needed to be looked up laboriously or just memorized. The fact is that we are becoming cyborgs not just in limbs but in our mind as well. I know some lament this development, hey I am not completely sure I like it at times. But, like it or not, it is happening. The question is, what does it mean and are we ready for it?

In the book we are currently writing, called Mind, Models, and Mentors, my colleagues (Brooks and Sayood) and I had a long discussion about the way the internet changes education. If we are truly becoming cyborgs then education has to adjust. The key is moving away from knowledge accumulation and memorization to problem-solving and searching.

"While memory remains important, it is clear that technologies (language, writing system, printing press, Internet) change the demands on human memory. What was essential a thousand years ago in order to discuss a text effectively (memory of the whole text) is potentially less critical now when we can easily refer back to texts in paper or digitally. This does not mean that students are learning (memorizing) less; instead it means that they need to memorize a different subset of knowledge linked to more complex operations and procedures." (excerpt from Brooks, Sayood, and Trainin, 2016)

I do not believe that there should be no content knowledge. The most needed tasks and information should be available in long-term memory and immediately accessible. The rest... should be accessed through search. This change is guided by three interlocking facts:
1. We have devices that allow us to be constantly connected. They are fast and comprehensive.
2. Modern knowledge is too extensive for anyone to know it all in detail.
3. Knowledge is developing and updating at increasing speeds. It makes what your Dr. learned in med school 10 years ago is now potentially obsolete or even dangerous.

As a result, the skills that our students need are the skills of searching and evaluating the quality of information available, problem-solving and self-regulation of our memory to make sure that we remember is accurate and still relevant.

The term cyborg has always been a negative one. Reality around us shows that we are becoming cyborgs, mechanically, and cognitively. This is our evolution and we must make sure that we adjust our schools to fit reality.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

It's Time to Decide What's Next in Ed

Stanley Howe CC License
Over the last decade, education has developed a dual personality. One is the high stakes assessment driven culture that focuses on a narrow top-down curricular vision. It is a vestige of the 20th-century vision for education. It is organized, clear in its means and outcomes. The yardsticks are set, and we are all measured against them. After trying this way for the better part of 20 years, we can say a few things. The first is that the accountability put in place helped shine a light on educational inequities that were sometimes hidden by local reporting practices. Accountability done well showed clearly the "achievement gap" and its relationship to income and other inequalities. However, the neo-liberal expectation that exposing certain inequalities will lead to a self-correcting system through a system of rewards and punishments has failed miserably.

At the same time, educators have realized that the post-industrial economy presents new challenges and need a decidedly different educational output. The vision was not necessarily new (Dewey was right) but it was now deemed necessary not just by humanist but also by business leaders. The call for education that is creative, problem-solving oriented, and includes soft skills is now coming from all sides. The problem is that we cannot do both at the same time. At least not well.

We have tried for a while to claim that working on 21st skills will also lead to growth in test scores a-la Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelutsky (Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!). The linear nature of tests defies this logic. From an effort perspective, you get more "bang for your buck" (the buck here is time) if you focus only on tested skills than if you work on a complex wide array of outcomes many of them long term. My mentor Lee Swanson used to call it confusing the independent and dependent variables. In this case, limited measurement gives you a false sense of impact.

What I see in the field are schools trying to satisfy both personalities. Let's score high on the test with a narrow curricular vision AND be creative. The reality is that our days are too short, and both teachers and students find it very hard to pivot from a structured almost canned curriculum to creativity and soft skills and then back again.

The question is how to combine the advantages of the accountability era, namely accountability that shines a light on inequities, with 21st-century curricular goals. The answer is simple. Technology. Technology allows us to record everything students do. The need for a narrow window of time in which all students are measured on a narrow set of skills can be replaced by a flexible system that records everything that students do and tags their growing abilities. My personal work with Actively Learn is an example of how this can be achieved. But for that to work, we need to put our attention to making sure that we have the right personality.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Notes from the Field- Technology Literacy and Art- Monique's Story

Monique and I go back a long time. She is one of my favorite teachers and one of the most thoughtful educators I have had the pleasure to work with. We have not worked together for quite a while but recently she sent me a short note on her work integrating technology so here it is in her own words (I took the liberty to make small changes for clarity).

Monique writes:
Earlier in the year I tried "tech buddies" -- a sixth-grade class & teacher graciously came to my room and worked with my students (I observed) in doing a little research, and each made a field-to-table Po
wer Point-type thing.   That was great, but a one-and-done experience because I only had access to the iPads for 40 minutes every other week. And I still had those mandatory tests/quizzes to work into my scheduled time!

My latest push of myself to use technology and use it a little more creatively started with a mask-making art project and the desire to get EL (and all kids) talking more in a purposeful way. I remembered that D. (1st grade ArtsLINC teacher) had her students successfully use a program/app called Chatterpix.  I had been introduced to Chatterpix by colleagues in the Nebraska Writing Project years ago,  but it had been shelved in my subconscious until this spring.   I had been talking with D. about iPad management (cart versus a few) and wondered how she did it. She told me how she has a small set of them in her classroom all the time (I  think 6) and teaches the kids how to manage and help one another.  She encouraged me that 'for sure' my second graders could make the masks talk with Chatterpix!  Then she told me how she had them post their work in an online journal called Seesaw.  She was making a believer out of me, but... I still felt like I needed a hand, a push or a kick --so --
I invited her over to our school site to provide an afterschool PD to our volunteer "Art PLC" to instruct us just in Chatterpix and Seesaw. (it was not a course in everything iPad, just two things!) Everyone was invited.  We had half-dozen teachers and our principal even came!    She not only walked us through using the apps but talked realistically about classroom management with young primary students.  She also made me realize I could probably do it with a few iPads and not a cart-full.  

So I checked out one (1) iPad from our principal and started in!   They photographed their mask.  They wrote a script for the speech that their mask would give.  (I had given them directions /ideas based on all the pre-learning before the Mask Making.). Then they recorded it using Chatterpix and uploaded it to their individual spot in our Classroom Journal I had set up on Seesaw.  They accessed Seesaw by using a QR code created by Seesaw when I signed up.  I taught two kids and then they managed the rest of the class!   When it was recording time they gave me a signal, then I just said "quiet on the set" and my class was immediately silent!  (they knew their turn was coming!)
The way Seesaw is set up, the teacher has to approve everything before it's posted, so that came after school.  Then -- my entry into integrating Art, Writing, Speaking, and Technology was successful!!

Seesaw also lets you invite parents to view just their child's portion of our class journal, so I did that and have several parents following their student's work now!  

Beyond this original project, I had kids use just Seesaw to take photos of their art and read what they wrote using the audio recording portion several times.  I video captured them reciting a poem of their choice.  They've given oral bi-weekly book recommendations (written first like a book report) all year, so I had them take a photo of their writing and accompanying art and audio-recorded their "speech."  In all cases, they could re-do if they reviewed-listened and weren't pleased.  

Student Masks (photo by Monique)
In the middle of our second "project", I invited the principal to come and see it in action-- with the kids doing it ALL!   I wanted to thank him for finding an iPad for me (my kids) to use and have available all day, every day.  He was as jazzed as I was.  He also saw that I was able to continue with MY passion of art and literacy integration (speaking, listening, reading, writing) and add technology and parent communication.     Within a few weeks, he asked if he could bring a group of principals into my room to see it in action.   THEN a week later he brought by a School Board member!   It was very affirming.   And even an old teacher like me can do it!
So next year, I'll be starting with Seesaw in the Fall to document & share most (if not all) of our ART & literacy (and social studies & science)  projects!    I'll still hang some on the classroom wall and in the office, but this will reach the parents much more quickly and is accessible to me in places other than my classroom!
Take care!


Saturday, May 21, 2016

What Girl Volleyball taught Me about EdTech

I am visiting my mother in Israel for a few days. Sitting around the table were some family and friends that came to say hi. My aunt was telling us about her granddaughter who is just over 15 and already 6'2". My first thought was, does she play volleyball? This is what I perceive to be a Nebraska question. After 14 years in Nebraska, I think like a Nebraskan. It is unusual for a girl who is tall not to be involved in sports. Einat, a long time friend, and an athlete, chimed in does she play basketball? The answer was No, she does not do any sport. Instead, she is modeling. My aunt explained that there were no opportunities afforded to her in sports.
Einat, who is a former pro athlete, lamented the status of women's sports at all levels. The opportunities aren't there, and there is very slow change.

I started thinking about what made the situation in Nebraska and the US different. While the status of women in the US is somewhat better than Israel, it is not dramatically different. Israelis love sports. While speaking, I realized that the main difference was schools and extracurriculars. I have to admit that I have an ambivalence towards high school sports. But through this discussion, I realized how the structure of extracurricular activities allows schools to open opportunities across ethnicity, income, and gender lines. The fact that it is a school sanctioned activity allows students who might never find such a home to "try out" new selves. In this case to try out their identity as athletes. This would not happen for many students unless schools offered the activity. In popular culture, I am reminded of the path that Jesminder 'Jess' Kaur Bhamra took in Bend It like Beckham. I am convinced that the road would open to many more girls and minority women when it is a school activity.

So what does that have to do with EdTech? Quite a bit. I hear calls to limit the use of technology in
schools or even not teach with devices. Teach thinking, basics, writing. I believe that much of this argument is coming from a middle-class belief that students will eventually get there. I make this point often about my kids. If their school fails to teach them about digital citizenship, search, or tools, I will show them. The problem is that this approach leaves too many capable students behind. Students who will not find a guide that would help them explore if they are interested in science, programming or gaming. Without schools affording to expose all students to these areas we are reproducing gap and losing some of our most talented future creators. We should teach science, technology, and making to ALL in school right NOW.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

3 Reasons Scaling Up Open Educational Resources Should be the Next Step

Open Educational Resources (OER) have been with us for over 20 years. The world wide web revolution made them accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The move in schools to 1 to 1 devices is making it possible now to rely on OER to replace curriculum companies. I believe that this is the time to scale the use of OER and move our schools boldly forward. I believe that the movement has matured enough to move from the periphery to the center of the education process. Here I outline the three most important reasons to do so.
  1.  It is democratic. Well vetted OER breaks the hold that publishers and some states (Texas, CA, NY) have had over the creation of materials. The use of OER allows districts, and potentially even teachers to exercise their professional judgment in curating the curriculum without having to create everything themselves. This will help build the professional capacity of educators to make decisions that fit the students and communities they are serving. The challenge here is tackling the potential for dealing with overabundance and the paradox of too much choice. To make this reality, a vetting process should be added to OER, so teachers have a sense of quality. Such curation is visible on sites such as OERCommons and ReadWriteThink.
  2. It is flexible. OER can be updated and corrected in real time without lengthy editing processes. In effect, we can use a Wikipedia-like process with super-editors who help maintain the integrity of the process. The value of OER is, therefore,  based on the quality of the original and the willingness of users to keep the resource updated and commented on. The use of crowdsourcing to determine the quality and maintain the "freshness" and accuracy of the information can be invaluable.
  3. It is (almost) free. Resources saved by not buying textbooks and teacher materials can be turned to making sure that schools have adequate technology infrastructure, adequate device distribution and most importantly- turn most of the savings into professional development that makes sure that teachers are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by OER.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Open Letter from a Teacher Educator to EduTech Companies

I am a teacher educator. I work with pre-service teachers every day. I am also an EdTech expert leading professional development and research in this area. I love apps OERI and bells and whistle. I want my students to use tech tools for every opportunity it fits their lesson. I want them to give feedback electronically and use the best tools for the job. But I can't. The simple truth is that my students are having less open access to the technology. As a result, my students have very limited access to the tools used in their school district.

Here is the deal,  curriculum companies turn into Tech companies joined by startups in the field. They all try to sell district-wide products. The problem is that they are selling to school districts, but my students who are in practicum, internship and student teaching in the same classrooms do not belong to the district. As a result school districts do not want to pay for licenses that will not benefit teachers or additional students.

The problem is that more and more the cost is locking my students out of the materials they need to teach. There are hundreds of thousands of pre-service teachers in the US. EduTech companies, please figure it out. Use some of the capacity for innovation to create a profile for pre-service teachers.

Help us make the next generation of teachers connected capable and ready to go.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Are Devices Eating your Students Brains?

Children's Games, 1560, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Kristen Bailey recently shared this article:
Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy. Penned by Victoria Dunckley for Psychology Today the article discusses the evils of screen time. A moment of parental panic ensues as author attempt to sell her book through over-generalizations and fear. No parent wants her kids to be moody, crazy nor lazy.

Dr. Dunckley's work has a basis in fact, what concerns me is the overreaching sweeping statements. Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy is such a better title than say: "Parents and kids need to be reasonable about screen time especially in the evenings". OR "Moderate balanced use of screen time can be a meaningful part of a healthy childhood.

The dire warning in Psychology Today is especially challenging given other stories about screen time and video games from the same publication. For example:
Video Gaming Can Increase Brain Size and Connectivity by Christopher Bergland

Dunckley's work emerges from reverse engineering of causes in cases she sees in her practice as a Psychiatrist.This kind of work excludes any ability to see normally behaving children and teens who have access to screen time. And, as I pointed out before, explosive titles sell books- because they prey on our base emotions, in this case, fear, combined with the tradition of screen bashing in the US. 

So, what should we as teachers do? Traditionally, we stay on the safe side, if we are not sure if something is dangerous we stay away from it. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the cost and risk in not engaging. In the case of screen time, the cost is that some students will emerge into the world of college and work without a solid footing in how to engage with digital technologies effectively. Without a reasonable capacity using digital technology students are at a disadvantage as citizens, workers, and consumers. I argue that we cannot afford to just turn it all off.

 what we should do is consider a few approaches:
  1. Put reasonable limits around screen time. Devices are alluring, once they are in front of us it is hard to resist the urge to interact. As a result teachers and parents must establish clear rules about when device use is reasonable. In my class I ask my students to turn off sound notification, ring and dings of all kinds. In addition, there are times and activities in which devices are expected to be off. To prevent problems I often ask students to turn their devices upside down on the table or close the screen down.
  2. Know your students/ children. Some students are more susceptible to the effects of screen time. As you use devices in your classroom, you will learn what the limitations of each student and design individual plans.
  3. Model appropriate device hygiene. Students emulate our behavior. We need to model device hygiene by using similar guidelines to the ones we want kids to follow. If we check our device every minute or so it will be hard to expect our students to behave differently. For example, I discuss my strategy of leaving my phone in my office to allow me to teach without any interruptions. This kind of a metacognitive model (or think aloud) can help students reach self-regulation (#5).
  4. Consider the feedback time. Different uses of devices create different feedback cycles. Quick feedback is very motivating but can desensitize students to stimuli. The trick is to include different kinds of feedback systems that do not over rely on quick feedback. For example, video games are often mentioned because of the immediate feedback and reward system. Some games, however, are not reliant on such a reward system- for example Minecraft.
  5. Teach self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to manage behavior with minimal outside intervention. It limits disruptive behavior and impulsivity and makes sure that we think before we react. Devices make self-regulation harder- hence the need to teach it through modeling, practice, and feedback.
In short, I claim that the digital environment around us can be problematic BUT it does not follow that kids will be Moody, Crazy and Lazy. Instead, I argue that with thoughtful application students can learn to use devices to enhance their learning so they can be full citizens of the world.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Four Reasons All Teacher Educators need to visit Neligh NE

Last week I traveled to Neligh NE to work with a group of early childhhod educators. It was a long drive made longer by road construction. As I was waiting for the road to reopen I sat in my car and quietly asked myself if this was worth my time. LaDonna Werth of UNL extension invited me. The professional development required traveling almost 3 hrs each way. In between I was to speak for about an hour and a half. Having some quiet time in the car I came to the realization that, no, this was probably not a good use of my time.
Promises had to be kept so I continued the last 45 minutes to ESU 6. I took a rickety elevator to the professional development room, it was packed with early educators from across the region. K-2 teachers, preschool teachers and paraeducators were all engaged in learning. As I drove home stopped on the other side of the same road construction- I stepped out of the car to chat with the guy holding the stop sign. As we were chatting my mind was tallying the ways this and other opportunities ARE worth it.
  1. Taking in the landscape. It’s an opportunity for me to learn what is really happening in rural communities and their schools. I am a frequent visitor to urban and suburban schools. Visting with rural educators highlights the simalarities and the differences with urban and suburban educators. This makes my understanding of schooling in Nebraska more nuanced and enables me to serve all teachers and students better.
  2. Impact. Last year we visited a school in Lynch Nebraska to capture an educator who was integrating technology daily with her preschoolers. This time the same teacher was presenting leading the group. In addition, the video we created helped convince the school board to invest in more devices for young students.
  3. Reality check. Early childhood educators reminded me that devices are a nice addtion but that we need to emphasize all forms of play and learning. While I know that, the looks of caution in their eyes reinforced the need to remind mindself about the need for balance.
  4. Learning. I pick up ideas from every group of teachers I meet. This group is no different. Last year Heidi showed me how to use the Starwalk app and a projector to create a classroom planetarium. It was magical learning about the universe. This time I picked up a slew of developmentally appropriate apps.

All teacher educators should find their own Nelighs, places where we teach and learn with other educators. I will be back.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Now and Next in Ed

"Maison tournante aĆ©rienne" by Albert Robida
I spent some time at the Early Childhood Summit this week. It was an excellent opportunity to hear some innovative research. Quite a bit of the research presented was incremental, based on past assumptions and deeply linked to education as it used to be. In a sense, I find that the incremental advances in much of the work are too tied to 20th-century conceptions of education. The problem is, as Berliner noted that much of educational research is related to context and time. Once the context has shifted significantly, it becomes irrelevant.

This led me to think about the now and next in education. The NOW includes two changes:
The shift towards individualized or differentiated instruction. Technology is poised to make fully differentiated instruction possible since it decouples curriculum delivery from its dependence on the teachers thus freeing teachers to focus on guiding students and managing complex information systems needed to support students moving from different starting points. This process is far from over. In fact, I would say that we have only begun. There is, however, an emerging consensus that this is the right direction. This consensus allows teacher education, curriculum providers, and professional development efforts to focus on the task.
The second shift is towards Open Educational Resources (OER). I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to promote these practices from the bottom up. Now with federal support and some states buying in it feels like this tide has turned as well. We can produce quality curricular materials that will be accessible to any teacher and student making the proposition of differentiation affordable for any school. The shift in costs can help education agencies focus on the development of teachers and their ability to deliver differentiated instruction.

The NEXT is linked to assessment. Our current assessment systems are slaves to pre-information-age technologies. In the past snapshot in time assessment technology was the only one available. We simply did not have the technology to capture student performance in-vivo. We had to resort to a weekly spelling test and annual achievement tests. We have perfected these snapshots and now use technology to better and more efficiently capture them. In essence, we are still captive to this thinking- there has to be an assessment event that counts, that we prepare for and then celebrate. Technology and big data have opened the door on a completely different assessment technology. One that captures everything our students do and can measure it in real time. The need for snapshots has passed. If my students writing is captured electronically, then every teacher can get a report of their students spelling without a need for a special event. Instead, they can know how their students are spelling when they are writing authentic texts. Real performance for the real world.

I know that charting potential does not guarantee it will happen. I just hope that researchers and funders and eventually schools can move beyond the practices of the past to recognize the shifts in technology go beyond a more efficient snapshot to describing authentic performance across academic tasks.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

There are no Teachers in Trenches

World War I Trenches
I often see and hear about lessons from the trenches. This metaphor is used in education as much as any other field. And the concern I start with was raised a few years ago in this blog post. The insinuation is that  classrooms, the frontlines of education are very different from the theoretical discussions we have in conferences, academic papers, and administration halls. I agree that the lived experience in education is different, more visceral than an academic debate. What I am calling to change is the language of war (and football) when referring to education.

The war metaphor reminds me of the standup routine by George Carlin- about the way we use language to describe football and baseball. What I would like to suggest is that using war or combat metaphors sets a false sense of our daily lives. Yes, as educators we sometimes struggle, yes we have some difficult days. But, for most educators, life is not threatened, and the sum is more positive than negative. I think that the combat laden language sets up conflict lines. Conflict with whom? Who are we shooting at as we emerge from our trenches? Students? Administrators? Families? The Community? Politicians?

I think that the language of war emphasizes zero sum game thinking and increases teacher loneliness. It sets up a feeling of us vs. them. The war metaphor leads to negativity. This sense of war may very well contribute to teachers dropping out. If you define education as combat eventually the soldiers get tired they want to go home. We might lead a brilliant charge and Teach Like their Hair's on Firebut that cannot last for a full career.

We need better metaphors. Ones that admit the challenges and obstacles but also admits the positive, the possibility of collaboration. Metaphors are powerful in orienting our dispositions and choosing the right ones can change the way we see the world.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What my Ski Accident Made Me Learn about Ed Tech

It is the last day of spring break, and I hobble around on crutches. Our family travelled to our favorite spring skiing spot in Park City Utah where we had a fantastic time, and where I had a skiing accident.
I was skiing down the slope on the last run of the day. My skis got caught, and suddenly I found myself on the ground facing the wrong way with one string of thought flooding my brain: "pain, knee, stupid." Someone came to my aid (thank you whoever you are) undid my skis and called for help. Ski patrol took me down the mountain, and an enthusiastic intern at the clinic informed me that I had an MCL injury.
Having gone through this delightful experience has been an opportunity to think about what I can learn from the accident beyond being more careful when I ski. So, here are some of the lessons I came up with that are relevant to my daily life.

1. The affordances of technology. The first two items I got from the clinic were crutches and a knee brace. The crutches are ancient technology, effective and crude. The knee brace, though, is fantastic. The treatment for my torn MCL in the past would have been a cast for an extended amount of time. It being my right knee it would have prevented driving and exercising for a prolonged period. Instead, this knee brace is hinged, flexible and removable, allowing me to function more normally and start walking within days instead of weeks. We sometimes focus on the downsides of technology and the burdens it adds that we forget the joyful affordances it introduces into our lives.

2. The power of partnership. I was on the slope on my own. There were other skiers around but none that were with me. My dad (78 and till skis better than me) lamented that had he been there this would not have happened. After joking about the way we parent at any age, I started thinking that he was right. Having a partner that helps you have a perspective on the path if he is in front of you, on speed if he is by you, or the responsibility of leading, if he is behind, would have probably caused me to slow down and be more aware of my environment. The parallel to innovating with technology is evident. When we innovate with colleagues, we can prevent burnout (or ski accidents) by working with others. That someone else has to be on the slope with us to help us pace, consider our surroundings, signal when to slow down and rest and help us when we fall. Without this kind of collaboration may be doomed to refuse to put on skis ever again.

3A. Fear is good. A healthy amount of apprehension is good. It keeps us from making catastrophic mistakes. Yes, I fell and got hurt, but I up and about and will be able to do most things within a few weeks. Fear kept me from going much faster and kept me focused on the path.

3B. Fear is bad. I cannot let my recent experience dictate that I will never ski again. I will do so cautiously, but I will certainly try. It is common to fail the first few times we use new technology in teaching. These failures increase apprehension in many practitioners; we must make sure that it does not paralyze us from trying again. As teachers, if we model giving up, how can we foster a "try, try again" attitude in our students.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tech EDGE Reflections. The end?

Laurie Friedrich and I have been doing Tech EDGE for 6 years. We have just finished our 16th! conference. Each conference has served on average between 100-150 participants. Our channel on youtube has about 40,000 views and over 600 subscribers we are also watched on iTunesU as a podcast on iTunes, on YouKu (in China) and on UNL's media hub. On all channels, we are approaching 200,000 views.
What have I learned? I learned that it is hard work. As soon as we finish one event we start nailing down details for another. We are constantly looking for great presenters who live meaningful technology integration not just talk about it. I learned that there are many dedicated educators who are looking to do well by their students and are craving support, ideas, and recognition. This is a simple process in a way. Simple does not mean easy, though. The trick is to keep on going, to find ways to motivate yourself and others as you keep going.

This week Laurie asked me if I was sad. Sad?I asked. Not really. Just tired. Many things piled up, and for a moment, I thought: Maybe, we're done? Perhaps, I've ran out of gas? It's hard to let go of a project you've poured your mind and soul into for 6 years, but I need to know to walk away. 

Participating yesterday, hearing classroom teachers sharing their moments of triumph, learning and sometimes failure gave me energy. The interaction with practicing educators working hard reminded me that I am not doing this alone, nor am I doing it to satisfy my need to be famous. I am doing it because this way I am helping shape the way we educate. Hopefully coming a bit closer to the vision of a creative, caring and competent citizenry.

That said, I am happy next week is spring break!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Binge Learning?

Binge had a negative connotation for a long time. We discussed binge drinking and worried about the impact on our systems.We have this sense that high-intensity short duration behaviors can lead to negative outcomes. The advent of Netflix has transformed the notion of binging into a less destructive more socially acceptable behavior.

In fact, we have been advocating this behavior for years, calling on students to get a lost in a book. We discuss books we cannot put down, or have to read in one sitting. It speaks to a motivation that leads to a very focused behavior.

Right now I am binging on history podcasts. It started with History of the English Language then transferred to History of Byzantium. Yes, I know I am a history geek. But listening to 3-5 podcasts daily (when I walk my dog or drive on my own, I do listen at 1.5 speed) I have started to have questions about learning. I caught my first serial history podcast about 3 months ago. History of the English language has been a deep and joyful experience because by the time I found it it had over 60 episodes. As I listened I enjoyed the level of detail and the build up of facts and ways of thinking. Once I caught up with the podcaster, however, I find it much harder to engage with episodes released once a week or less. I thought I just got tired of the subject so I switched to History of Byzantium, the effect is identical. Once I caught up with the podcasts and have to wait, I find myself a lot less engaged and need a lot more scaffolding to remember where I am in the story.

I argue that binging on content can be a powerful way to experience learning. Intensely sinking into a topic can be powerful and motivating which is exactly the opposite of the way we engage kids in schooling shifting our focus every 20-48 minutes in most cases. Binging on content is of course not enough but it can provide an exceptional starting point for deep understanding. If we follow binge consumption with an attempt to organize the information and then to creating an original product we might have a much better chance of learning. I think this notion fits well into the ideas of project-based learning (PBL) but not limited to it.

As for me, I will keep binging and enjoy learning intensely.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Digital Writing Gap or Let's all switch to Pencil

Photo by mpclemens CC
The 2012 NAEP look at student achievement composing on computers were published recently (December, 2015). The results are not surprising but crucial for our next step.

The key finding is straightforward:
" While fourth-graders had similar overall average scores on the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing assessment and on a paper-based pilot writing assessment administered in 2010, an analysis of 15 writing tasks common to both assessments revealed a different story.  The average score of high-performing fourth-graders was higher on the computer than on paper, whereas low- performing students did not appear to benefit from using the computer.  This finding suggests that low-performing fourth-graders did not fully demonstrate their writing ability on the computer in the 2012 NAEP computer-based pilot writing assessment, and that the use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap."
The growing gap is scary stuff. The results mirror the work by Don Leu that found similar effects with reading digitally. One response can be, so let's just assess kids without technology. The logic is that is technology in assessment widens the achievement gap then we should just go back to pencil and reduce the gap. Switching to pencil, however, is a short-sighted response. Assessment strived to approximate real world knowledge and skill. Writing in our world is done on devices more than any other way. One might argue about the value of note taking by hand, but the composition of personal, public, and professional communication is done electronically. Keeping the assessment to pen and paper would hide the much bigger gap that exists and divert us away from the main challenge- early access to digital technology for all children.
My claim here is that the language of the report makes it seem like the method is the culprit- "the use of the computer may have widened the achievement gap" I would argue it just exposed it.

I hear teachers and administrators worry that the tools embedded in the software/ internet provide "cheats". Children will use editing, dictionary, and spelling tools in a way that would reduce their learning.
This, however, is what the study found:
"In the computer-based pilot assessment, students’ actions on the computer were captured and analyzed for the lowest performing 20 percent of students, the highest performing 20 percent of students, and the middle-performing 60 percent of students. Compared to the middle- and high-performing students, a higher percentage of low-performing students:

  • used key presses less frequently;
  • did not use the spellcheck function;
  • did not accept any automated spelling corrections; and
  • used the backspace key less frequently to edit their work.
Overall, students who accepted spelling corrections and used the backspace key more often were also likely to write longer responses. "
Less capable students seem to be using tools less, partially explaining their lower achievement. Our problem is not that the tools are a crutch for low achievers, it is that they do not use them enough.

It is about access:
"The 2012 fourth-grade writing data indicate that students with access to the Internet at home were more likely than those without access to:

  • write longer responses;
  • use the spellcheck tool more often;
  • use the thesaurus tool more often; and
  • use bold and italics for emphasis more often. "
And who doesn't have access?
"The percentage of fourth-graders without access to the Internet at home was higher for Black students, Hispanic students, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners, and students with a disability."

To solve this problem of wider gaps in the information age, we must first provide constant access to tools- not an occasional one but habit forming access. Then we must teach digital strategies for using these tools for all students NOT just those who we deem ready.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Brag away Teachers Brag away- Teachers on Social Media.

Last week I read a #Rant through Ian O'Byrne's excellent feed on Google Plus. In the rant the author complained about teachers on social media and their oversharing of proud moments, highlighting their books and other common social media brags.
 The author starts with "...NI am talking about teachers on Facebook and Twitter and how much they piss me off." The author talks about negativity and frustration teachers express on social media as well as the over positive. Personally, I rarely see the negativity the author mentions, for me that means that I found my tribe, positive people who are looking to grow. The author also rejects positive hoorah moments- telling teachers to keep it to themselves.

I completely disagree.  First, participating in social media is a choice, if you don't want to, then just don't. I know plenty of teachers who do not participate. My point is always the same, try it, find your tribe, if you still do not like it stop. You do not have to read what others say- unfriend or hide on facebook or just plain ignore it on twitter.

The benefits of social media done right, outweigh the negative in my mind:

1. I believe that teachers can use social media well to get professional development or more likely the beginning of professional development. Twitter is a great place to get leads and re-orient yourself. I love twitter chats they are supportive and positive but in 140 characters you can just get a taste for ideas that you can then find more about.

2. Teachers need to connect, some have great people around them, others not. Social media creates vast teacher groups that can support teachers who are isolated because they are in a negative building or simply because they are the only German/art/take your pick teacher in the building.

3. We are often derided and attacked so sharing great student work, results or moments is a great way to make our work a bit more visible. Sharing our accomplishments is a powerful motivator. I do not read it as "look how much better than you I am" I read this as "I am teacher hear me roar..."

In short, I believe that social media can be a great tool for teachers to break isolation, keep learning, and stay motivated.

I think every teacher should try it. If it doesn't work for you, drop it. But please, do not rant, making those who do choose to engage feel small.

So brag away Teachers brag away!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

EdFuture is Now- Predictions

By Parry
My colleague Al asked me to think about trends in educational technology in the next 5-7 years. It is both a lovely and futile to try and predict where things are going. As I thought about it I found myself thinking of changes that are already in mid stride. To make it clear I am interested in technology and technology induced trends only as they impact education. Other trends (e.g. self driving cars) are exciting but have little relevance to the thing I know much about.

In the next few weeks I will blog about each group of predictions independently but here are the main topics I will try and tackle.

Already here:
1. Mobile
2. Flipped
3. Social

In the works:
5. Augmented reality
6. Individualization
7. Gaming

Social Engineering:
8. Citizenship
9. Leisure

Fashionable but educationally negligible:
10. Wearables
11. VR
12. User Interface beyond touch and voice.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How we can get "fully trained" teachers?

Graduating class of the Lady Stanley Institute for Trained Nurses in Ottawa, Ontario
I hopped on to #satchat this morning. The chat was lively and focused on assessment practices. One of the participants made this comment:
A5: Technologies in the classroom are only as effective as the teacher using it. Realistically, most are not fully trained
indicating that most teachers are not fully trained to use technology in assessment. That comment stuck out to me. What does it mean to be fully trained?

The term fully implies a finality, that there is such a time when we are done learning and can then go out and perform. As a teacher educator, I fight this notion all the time. Most hiring officials want fully trained teachers. We work hard to prepare capable teachers, but most evidence shows that they have much to learn and the good ones will keep on learning for many more years. Professionals are always working on improving their craft learning of innovations and reflecting on their practice. 

The other fallacy is the idea that there is a set of practices and tools that sum up the profession. If you master this set you will be fully trained. The problem with this notion, of course, is that we do not have a set. Instead, we have an ever evolving set of practices (hopefully supported with evidence) and technology tools. There is no way to be fully trained because the what we train for keeps changing. In fact, the changes in technology do not just change the tool but the affordance in a way that can change the nature of the task and as a result the nature of what and how we teach.

So what can we do? 

1. We can provide teachers with ways of thinking and problems solving. Having productive strategies to think through Problems of Practice is a key element in our work. This is what we do in our student's Capstone Projects.

2. We can provide an environment that supports professional learning for all. Teachers have different problems of practice and thus different professional learning needs. To be ready to tackle the ever-changing challenges of teaching we must help teachers define their learning needs and seek out the right supports. These can be as far ranging as informal edchats on twitter or formal as graduate degrees in education.

3. Change our expectations. We should not expect fully trained. We should expect innovative teachers who keep trying new ideas. Sometimes we will fall on our faces, but with the help of a supportive group of educators we can get up dust ourselves off and learn.

We should keep trying because there is an important lesson for our students in seeing us try, fail and try again until we all succeed together, students and educators. This is especially true of our attitudes toward new technologies.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Four Favorite Podcasts...
Lately, I have been on a podcast binge. Since being adopted by our dog Yuki, I suddenly have to listen while we go on our early morning and night walks. I thought this would be  a good time to share some of my current favorites.

1. Teachers Talking Tech- Eric and Mike are two elementary teachers that produce a delightful podcast that is focused on classroom use. I love the free flowing approach and the useful information that only two practicing teachers can give you. It is also a great example of what teachers can do with technology to support others while still staying in the classroom.

2. Education Next- Paul Peterson gives voice to relevant ed reform ideas. While I seldom agree with his stance, he does present an informed and often challenging views.

3. TED Radio Hour- Originally TED was consumable, you could watch everything. Now with time and many local TED conferences I need someone to help me get inspired. TED radio hour does just that by organizing multiple speakers around a topic. The hour does not include full talks, instead, there is just enough to whet my appetite, inspire and send me looking for the full talks.

4. History of English podcast is my guilty pleasure. I will readily admit that I am a history Nerd and the podcast combines history and language. Kevin Stroud is very thorough (although I have to admit that I listen at 1.5 speed). If you are interested in English and have some commute/ walk time this is a great way to learn something about the most commonly spoken language on the planet.

What are the podcasts you listen to?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My Social Media Vacation

I have been on a social media vacation for the past month. I have not blogged or participated in many of the regular social media activities. The idea was to take a deep breath.
No, I did not go to a sunny beach. I just spent some time evaluating my goals, my approach, and simply recharging. The question that guided my break is a simple A, B testing. The question guiding my quest was: Am I on social media because I am in a cycle that compels me to participate or risk becoming irrelevant? Or am I using social media because I think I can make a difference? The proposition was simple if I feel compelled to stay on social media during this time than it is more of a self-reinforcing cycle. But if I am able to take this break without feeling the urge to participate then maybe, just maybe I am actually contributing.
So what lessons did I learn from my social media vacation?

1. I survived. I enjoy participating in social media, but when I stopped being significantly involved I was perfectly fine. Social media is work and it is nice to stop for a while. I learned that the momentary compulsion to check and post were easily discarded once I made the decision.
2. I enjoyed it. It was actually enjoyable not to be on social media for a while. No, I did not use my productively. I just enjoyed some free time.
3. I am eager to come back and try and make a difference. My mission for the past few years have morphed but in many ways, it is still about making sure that all students have access to top-notch 21st-century education in and through technology. The way to reach this goal is collaboration with teachers who are the ones that change their students lives.

That's it, I am looking forward to a productive social media year!