Dec 082013
 

pylogoAfter 8 months of searching… I think I have found my Coding in the Classroom solution. What I was looking for was a product that gave me a means of some semblance of classroom control but gave the students the flexibility of an open learning environment. I also needed a product that gave me the confidence in saying “this is the one” to students, parents and administration.

What I have come to after months of searching is a Learn to Code solution called Grok Learning out of Australia. They have developed an all in one learn to code platform using Python as their first  offering and from what I have played with thus far, it looks to be a tight little package.

Being a coding neophyte myself, I needed something I could learn quickly along side my students but at the same time had enough complexity and sophistication to challenge the aspiring Wozniaks in the room. From what I have read, Python is apparently the way to go. It is easy to learn, teaches good coding practices and is similar enough to the C languages that learning C & C++ is easier once Python is in the bag. Besides, if Python is good enough for Google and NASA, I am guessing it is probably good enough for a high school classroom.

Some of the things I like about Grok are the following:

  • Browser based
  • Created by educators
  • No installations needed
  • Affordable(ish) $30 a head
  • Easy to set up online classroom
  • Student tracking and marking ready
  • Discussion forums to hash out coding challenges
  • Competitions to challenge students
  • Growing selection of tutorials
  • Downloadable resources
  • Custom courses available
  • Parenting Dashboard
  • Worked on my iPad
  • Live help

When speaking to the good folks of Grok, I mentioned that Canadian educators need an online classroom environment that doesn’t require ANY student information in order to comply with our privacy laws and they seemed to be willing to make that happen. As it stands, a teacher could still set up aliases for each kid and still be within the law.

The question you may now be asking is how Grok Learn To Code is different or better than the products already available? and to be honest, I am not completely sure. I have only just begun to play but at this point what I do like is the following.

Bang for buck – I originally looked at Code School. They provide a wide selection of courses, a really good delivery system and “team” discounts. Unfortunately, the cost is just way to much to ask kids or the school to pay. Sure if I was a good teacher, I would shell out the cash for it myself but I am a selfish sort and prefer to feed my kids so I passed

There are some Great Free Resources out there as well such as Code Academy, which my class is using now. They provide a very similar product to Grok including Python but it doesn’t give the teacher the opportunity to create an online classroom or delve into Python quite as deeply as Grok. In my opinion the ability to manage students under a single back-end interface is invaluable but being able to challenge the higher end kids is imperative. Grok also provides a unique level of support and opportunity for kids to interact with other young coders from around the world.

So after 6 short months and a long intensive search, I think I have come to a decision. it has been really quite astonishing how many learn to code options have come out of the woodwork while I have been looking. All offer a decent learn to code experience but at this moment… I think I will give Grok Learning a go for my coding program.

If anyone would like to give Grok a FREE trial run, they have given me 5 teacher subscriptions to give away. The first 5 insightful comments on this post will receive a link to join Grok.

Cheers,

Keith

 

Nov 292013
 

I love the little digital world I have built for myself. 1248 tweeps, a handful of blog followers who hang on every word I type and the odd mention in local media. It is enough to make a grown man puff up like a ruffed grouse and do a little cock-a-doodle doo! At the risk of coming off as an arrogant jerk, I would have to say that I am probably the single most knowledgeable Ed Tech expert within a two block radius of my home. There is no other way to put it than to just say, I am FREEKING AWESOME!

These days, anyone who wants and audience can have one. Slap up a blog, make a few posts and boom… You are a star. For better or worse, people like me are a dime a dozen in the Ed Tech world and when we get together in an Open Learning situation it can be rather comical. What starts out as a well-intentioned learning opportunity, sometimes slides into a battle for the title of digital kingpin. It is like watching bad episode of the Big Bang Theory unfolding before your eyes. (I’m Leonard in this scenario by the way)

Now this isn’t the norm for Open Education. The “Ethos” of this movement, is to work collaboratively with others and share what we know for the common good and there are lots of good open learning opportunities out there sans egomaniacs. However, I have found the egos come out to play on occasion in the odd MOOC, CEETBC Meet and once at an EdCamp I attended.

To answer the question you are now asking yourself, yes yours truly has been one of these pocket protector wearing egomaniacs. Shamefully I must admit to such self-serving behaviour but can you blame me? What I have to say is just so… awesome!

The answer as to why this is happening, is that in the past 3 or 4 years there has been a proliferation of “experts” in the world of 21 Century education and we all seem to gather in Open Education environments. Although the intention of Open Education or “Ethos” is not born of one-upmanship, some of us have tried to use the OE stage to jockey for the position as supreme leader of the Ed Tech geeks. I am just thankful it all occurs on-line. The aftermath of a face to face meeting would be messy. Torn and bloody corduroy, pocket protectors and broken glasses strewn about. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Although I have been thinking this for a while, I was hesitant to voice this observation for fear of retribution from the #EdTech Illuminati. Then a colleague of mine who has been broadening their 21 Century teaching skills expressed the same feelings about some of the Open Education situations they had encountered and thus, silent I could no longer be.

For the record, my intent here isn’t to try to diminish what people have to contribute to the world of education. Egomaniac or not, we all have some good stuff to share but we need to be able to identify when what we are doing is self-serving. The people who come to Open Learning environments are there to learn and broaden their knowledge not listen to self-proclaimed “experts” pontificate. They need us to listen and if we can’t get over ourselves, we will never hear them.

Even in today’s modern keyboard driven world, the old adage still applies. We are born with two eyes and two ears but only one tongue so just shut up and listen.

 

 

Oct 042013
 

1380965427_teacherIt would seem a new blogging schedule is starting to emerge. This going to school thing is forcing me to sit down with a glass of Shiraz in hand and hammer out a new blog post every Friday night. Not that I am complaining… I love Shiraz and I love Blogging, so here goes.

This weeks instalment is all about online identities and how it plays out as a connected educator. Bonnie Stewart dropped in as our guest moderator for this weeks #tiegrad class and shared some of her thoughts on what I found to be a riveting topic.

You can find out more about Bonnie and her Dissertation here: Scholars In The Open: Networked Identities Vs Institutional Identities

The discussion generated some very interesting questions about the ramifications of being a networked educator. For better or worse, teachers now have access to extraordinarily powerful tools with which to share their ideas and opinions about education. As a result, classroom teachers are  changing the landscape of education in a way we have never seen before.

It was a discussion that went far beyond the usual spiel of  “thou shalt not post pictures of your drunken escapades in Aruba last Christmas”  It was a discussion about the consequences of letting a schmuck teacher such as myself, influence others in a way that was virtually impossible just a few short years ago.

This discussion was so interesting because it was about ME! I am living proof of the power of being a connected educator. Two(ish) years ago, I was just some guy who worked with at-risk kids. My influence hardly went beyond the confines of the staff room and even then my influence was negligible. The only reason my existence mattered was that I took up space around the lunch table. Then along came a my blog and a twitter account and whether it be warranted or not, all of a sudden I had influence that reached far beyond the small confines of our staff room.

Although I kinda realized it before, yesterday’s class got me thinking about my responsibility as a connected educator.

The questions we looked at revolved around the ramifications of being a connected teacher. What are my responsibilities and who should I answer to? We also got into how networked teachers are disrupting the traditional power structures in education and what the consequences could be?

These are the questions that frame what Stewart referred to as “Identities for a new ethos”. If I remember correctly, she also said it is a world for which societal norms have not yet been formed and as such we can sometimes get situations that look a wee bit like the Wild West where there is no Marshall in town to keep the gun slinging at bay…  I paraphrase

Here are the significant questions I went away with. Anyone who has been following me for any length of time, will be able to figure out my answer to each so I would LOVE for you to chime in with your own answers to these questions. If you have a second please leave a comment and share your opinions/answers.

Questions to ponder for the connected teacher

What is the teachers place in the this new interconnected world?

How vocal should a teacher be on a social network?

Should connected teachers be expected to parrot their their school district’s party line?

Where is the line, how edgy or outspoken can a teacher be without being open to discipline?

Should your online identity stray from the person you are in the classroom?

Does a strong online presence threaten existing educational power structures and is that ok?

Cheers,
Keith

Jun 062013
 

iStock_000016696029XSmallAs hard as it is to believe… The school year is rapidly coming to a close and this means it’s time to reflect on the year that was and give you my #EdTech year in review. As usual, I will be assuming my role as the Eeyore of EdTech and focusing on the gloomier side of things but it is all well intended. As my loyal readers know, I am not a “Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah!!” kinda guy, so without further adue, I give you my #EdTech year in review.

Adios to the iPad cohort

Gasp! I know, as implausible as it may seem, our iPads in the classroom experiment came to an unceremonious end this year. Knowing the iPads in the classroom community as I do, I already know what they are all thinking but NO!… we did not “do it wrong”. We just came to the conclusion that a one device model was not workable in our situation.

IMHO… The reason the cohort failed to thrive is that we have a dynamic school with kids of all stripes and configurations and as such, we quickly learned that a single device in the hands of a specified group of students, is a very difficult thing to engineer.

As much as the school system likes to categorize, rank and pigeonhole kids into groups, things just don’t work that way in a comprehensive high school like ours. Right out of the gate, we discovered that the diverse scheduling needs of our students, simply didn’t lend itself to a one group, one device model.

The first year we managed to keep the cohort together because we targeted kids who’s scheduling would be (mostly) the same but this year we opened things up and we immediately found that we could not keep the cohort together but that is ok. Like I said, we are a comprehensive school, we don’t want to schedule kids into a single track and as such the cohort model just didn’t work like we had hoped.

The other thing that happened along the way, is that our school quietly and unceremoniously hit the ever so elusive #EdTech tipping point (I think) and adopted a BYOD policy right under our noses. There is no longer a need to try and engineer a classroom where every kid has a device in hand, it just happened au natruel.

Regardless of how things shook down, we learned a lot from this little experiment. All the teachers involved came away with a greater knowledge and understanding of how best to utilize digital tools in the classroom and will continue to apply and expand their skills for the rest of their careers. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the group of teachers who were a part of the iPads in the classroom experiment are now sharing what they learned with colleagues both near and far. The iPads in the classroom pilot WAS a success, just not in the way we were expecting.

Bandwidth issues

As I had mentioned in the previous section, It would seem that we may have hit the #EdTech tipping point and what better measure to determine this than bandwidth use.

This year was a definite struggle with getting connected with the outside world, from within our schools. It was like we hit a wall this year and when I say “We” I mean the Royal “We”. Schools everywhere were discovering that a building full of people using the internet all at the same time, can pose a wee bit of a problem.

It has become painfully obvious that infrastructure upgrades are becoming an immediate need for schools that are going digital. The problem now, is figuring out how to pay for it. With shrinking education budgets, it becomes very difficult to justify spending money on improving connectivity when you are looking at cutting back on teaching staff and educational programs.

My prediction is that, we (public education) will be looking at corporate sponsored funding for these types of upgrades very soon. It is a Pandora’s box waiting to be opened but it is coming… mark my words.

Note: The bandwidth issues we were experiencing in my school this past year were recently addressed and access is much improved. 

Plight of the naysayer

Ok perhaps “naysayer” is a bit misleading, so lets use contentious practitioner, or constructive criticizer or at worst contentious objector…

This year was an interesting one as the #EdTech movement, gained some significant momentum and began pushing hard for greater use of technology in classrooms. Along with this has been a growing expectation that teachers embrace the digitization of their professional development and to some extent their professional identity. The Personal Learning Network or PLN, was the topic du jour at many a staff meeting, blog post and twitter chat.

Now if you recall, I am a bit of advocate for the integration of digital tools in the classroom and I am a REALLY BIG fan of the digital PLN but things are starting to get a little ugly out there.

You see it at staff meetings, on twitter, in blogs and in main stream media. Those who are not on the #EdTech train are getting hammered with criticism. I even got attacked on twitter a couple of months back for questioning a “EdTech GuRu”. It was really quite astonishing how quickly this individual and her disciples piled on in an attempt to marginalize my critique. My questions weren’t even addressed as they immediately labelled me as a #EdTech heretic and proceeded to try to discredit me through the medium of twitter.

I have to plead guilty of being an #EdTech bully myself. During a staff meeting, I disrespectfully responding to a colleague when he questioned the usefulness of social media as a professional development tool. Although I eventually tried to answer his question respectfully, I started off with a dismissive smart assed comment, which had no place in the discussion.

Beyond personal attacks, there seems to be a concerted effort to silence and marginalize anyone who questions the #EdTech movement and this isn’t just a personal observation. In the past two weeks alone, I have been DM’d on twitter, received emails and was even approached at a social function, about how to deal with a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message of “You are either with us or against us, pick your side!”

I never thought the #EdTech discussion between the Pro and Whoa camps, would ever degrade to a showdown but I am afraid we are heading down a path toward greater conflict. Lines are being drawn and they seem to be more ideological rather than pedagogical.

To Wrap Up

All in all it has been a good year. I certainly haven’t been as active in the #EdTech community as I was last year but I just couldn’t keep up the previous years pace. Next doesn’t look good either as I hope to begin my Masters in Education Technology (if I am accepted) and will probably have even less time to share my insight and opinion. One positive however, is that when I do show up, I might actually know what I am talking about since I will be all lerned up reel good.

Have a great summer all… Cheers!

Some 2012/2013 Articles about #EdTech

Little gain from technology in the classroom

Outdated education model opens doors for tech companies

Technology changing how students learn, teachers say

 Teacher knows if you have done the E Reading

Apr 172013
 

I apologize but the original post has been removed for circumstances beyond my control.

If you want to participate in an excellent discussion on the topic, go to Linked In and search in the

Technology Integration in Education Digital technology into the classroom

Mar 272013
 

earth_stopWell I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.

Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.

In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.

Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.

Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.

Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.

Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.

Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.

The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.

I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.

If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.

Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.

Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.

JMHO…

Feb 152013
 

I am elated to introduce the single best tablet ever designed for the classroom. Finally we have something that works the way a Classroom Tablet should… I give you the EDUTAB

kpad

Features


case

 

Construction

  • Encased in carbon fiber
  • Godzilla Glass! Like Gorilla Glass but 10 x stronger
  • Water resistant
  • Field study ready
Entire Network Network Capable

  • Each tablet networked the way you want
  • Microsoft & Novell Network Compatible
  • Multi User profile logins from 2 to ∞
  • H Drive accessible
Groups2 Complete File Freedom

  • Up or download files
  • Share files from device to device
  • Move files from device to networked drive
  • Move files from device to cloud
  • Share files between applications
Print (1) Wireless Printing anywhere anytime

  • Print to any shared printer over a Wi-Fi network
wireless WiFi Enabled

  • WiFi Syncing capable with network or desktop
  • Non Proprietary WiFi Projection
Bluetooth Bluetooth

  • Connect keyboard
  • Tether your data enabled phone
  • Connect to other bluetooth enabled devices
google_desktop Google Tools Friendly

  • Google Drive
  • Google +
  • Google Apps for Education
apps Full complement of productivity Apps

  • Document creation
  • Presentation creation
  • Math tools
  • Science tools
  • Reference materials
flash Flash Support

  • Need I say more
Browser Fully Functioning Browser

  • Reduce the need for apps
  • Freedom to roam the web
Video Multi Media Capable

  • Video editing
  • Audio editing
  • Podcast ready
  • YouTube Friendly
preferences_desktop_keyboard Physical Keyboard

  • External keyboard capable
  • Physical attachment
  • Bluetooth connection
1360883378_Library_Black E Reader Ready

  • Multi format capable
  • Annotation capable
  • Read access from Network Drive (required less storage space)

Player Volume
Audio

  • Dolby 5.1 output
  • Universal mic input (built in condenser)
camera_video Camera

  • Still & Video ready
  • 8 Mega Pixel
  • Front and back
usbflashcardwithcardreader2 USB & Memory ports

  • Expandable SD memory slot
  • Easy connect micro USB
  • Compatible with all operating systems
  • Transfer files by drag and drop
  • Great for pushing out network images
1360998829_battery_two_thirds Battery Life

  • 10+ hour battery life
1361003386_money_bag Cost

  • 16G $250
  • 32G $350
  • Institutional lease options
  • Bulk purchase discounts

Cool Eh! And then I woke up.

Device makers have yet to come to grips with what educators need out of a digital device.

I am quite certain that an educator, has never been involved in the design of any tablet on the market today. The utility of the tablet as a classroom device, continues to be more of a function of marketing than design.

The classroom is a flexible, ever-changing and frequently unpredictable place and as such, digital devices need to be able to keep up and roll with the needs of the student and teacher as they arise. The confines of a device’s limitations or lack there of, is the true measure of its value as a learning tool.

A multinational’s vision of what a classroom should look like, matters not. We need to remember, they are selling devices not education. What I have listed above is what I need as a teacher in a dynamic digitally driven classroom. I don’t care about proprietary posturing and protection of trade secrets. Give me something that does what I want it to do, when I want it done. No restrictions, no workarounds, just pure unadulterated classroom utility.

Happy Weekend.

Reader Additions To The Ultimate Tablet

people Multi User Profiles

  • User profiles that are not tied to network
  • Provide different access and rights to groups or individuals
  • Student – Teacher – Parent

Shared by @_valeriei & @KEgilsson

Radix_SmartClass_Teacher_students_laptops_control_management_small

image credit Radix Management

Classroom Management Tools

  • Control and manage a class set of devices
  • Push out content to class simultaneously
  • interact and evaluate with students on the fly

Shared by Michael from Radix classroom management system

 

 

Dec 222012
 

Christmas tree on streetWow! Another year has come and gone and I am still employed. Not that I shouldn’t be, just that this blogging thing puts you under a bit of a microscope. One wrong word and BAM! You are collecting unemployment and rummaging through people’s road side recycling, while the kids are at school and the wife is at work.

This year has certainly been eventful and rewarding but I am definitely not on the same track I was last year at this time. Last year’s Christmas reflection was all about the student, the device and the classroom. This year, my iPad cohort went to hell in a handbasket and thus my attentions are not quite so focused on iPads In The Classroom so much as they are Technology and the Classroom Teacher.

As a result of this shift in focus, this years reflection has a more teacher centered slant… and defies the laws of physics apparently. :-P So here goes this years moments that make you say “hmmmmmmmmm?”

The PLN

This was the Acronym of the year and perhaps the single most important part of my professional development over the past year. The Personal Learning Network has gone digital and in doing so, has revolutionized how we communicate as professionals.

I have gone with a three-legged stool approach and have built my PLN on the following.

  • My Blog
  • My Twitter Account
  • An information source (Zite)

These three items have come together and have profoundly changed the way I do my job but more importantly, how I see my self as a teacher. The Digital PLN is a POWERFUL tool and I highly recommend it to any and all teachers.

See further resources below

Building Your Personal Learning Network

21 Century Literacies: An iPad Resource

Pinterest – Personal Learning Networks

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Time / ProD

It has become crystal clear, that if we expect teachers to make digital technology a more significant part of their teaching practice, they need more Professional Development. When I say “More ProD…” I don’t mean a series of rinky dink hour-long workshops on “using twitter in the classroom” or “The latest apps for teaching…” I mean purposeful hands-on experience with technology both in and out of the classroom.

In order to get an idea of just how much time the “experts” with educational technology have put in, I will use myself as a “Average Joe Blow Educational Tech Geek” example.

The very first day of my practicum in 1993, I was introduced to a program that made word searches and crosswords that you could print out for use in the classroom. Since that day, I have logged innumerable hours using technology to make my life in the classroom easier and hopefully my teaching practise better.

To get an idea of just how much time I have spent, assume that since that day in 1993, I averaged a single hour a day using technology for the purpose of improving my teaching practice. Multiply an hour a day by approximately 180 school days for 19 years and you get 3429 hrs of hands on time with educational technology. I am quite certain however, that number should be doubled if not quadrupled. In the past 12 years, I have easily met and far surpassed Malcome Gladwells magic 10,000 hour mark to becoming an “expert” in anything.

What is most important to keep in mind here, is that these 10,000+ hrs have been purposeful. It wasn’t just time sending emails, surfing the net, watching silly kitty videos or squandering time on some social network. What is also important to note here is that, until this year, the hardware used and the time spent has been almost entirely on my nickel. This time has been a HUGE investment for me and I did it because I love the stuff but other people have other areas of pedagogical interest; therefore, we can’t expect that everyone is willing to put in the hours on their own dime, like I have.

Finally, if we look at proficiency with Ed Tech from a purposeful time spent” perspective, it goes a long way in explaining why “digital literacy” is not all that common in the classroom. It also helps to dispel the digital native myth and explain why new teachers are not coming hard out of the gates, with the digital skills necessary for the 21 Century Classroom.

Technology in the classroom will always remain on the fringes if teachers are not provided the opportunity to play, practice and implement the technology they are being asked to use.

All in or All out

There are two sides in this Educational Technology debate and I have tried to situate myself squarely in the middle of them, not because I am afraid to take sides but because I firmly believe both sides have value and can coexist.

There are those however, who are hunkered down in their respective battlements and are preparing for the looming battle that lies ahead but like any war, little good will come of it.

This past week our director of Educational Technology in West Vancouver said to me, something along the lines of… “With my own kids, I just wish “we” (as in education system) would just decide to which world we are going to educate in” He then suggest that I read a book by Steve Johnson – “Future Perfect”. I have yet to crack the binding but my understanding is that the premise is that technology is changing the way we think and that going digital is just part of our evolution.

Although I can appreciate the premise, I cannot buy into it. As a classroom teacher and a parent, I watch the kids who straddle the two worlds (hardcopy and digital) and they are excelling. The ones who are all digital and in the rare case, all hardcopy, seem to me to be struggling.

At this point in the game, I don’t think all in or all out is wise. Kids need to be able to think and function in both, in order to be successful.

BYOD or Single OS

At the beginning of this year, I was much more Pro BYOD then I am now but I will go out on a limb and say it here and now. For instructional purposes, having a set of single platform devices in the classroom is far superior to having a rag-tag, hodgepodge, mix-in-match, dogs breakfast set of devices in the classroom.

I know that there are a number of people out there saying how wonderful BYOD is BUT! It is not a plug and play scenario. A single OS classroom makes things simple because it is easy to have everyone seeing and doing the same things on the same application at the same time. Yes we need to personalize education but there are times when uniformity kicks the stuffing out of diversity and instructional time is just one of those times.

Situations where BYOD works

  • Classes with highly digitally literate students.
  • When the applications you use are available across all platforms.
  • When you just feel like pulling your hair out in frustration.

For the past 2+ years, the iPad has been seen as the only single OS option worth considering because of its portability, functionality and moderate price but now with the new $250 Chromebook on the market, that should change. I am really quite excited about the Chromebook and think it will go a long way in making the single OS classroom, an easier task.

Access

This is a biggie. Access to digital tools and digital networks is simply a must have, in order for Educational Technology to be effective.

Get the a device in the hands of the learner piece, is a no brainer. No device, then no digital assisted learning. Although 1:1 seems to be the “ideal” scenario, lately I have been hearing noise that 2:1 is actually better. It creates a situation where kids have to work together because they actually have to talk to each other, share the device, their ideas and even plan how they can best accomplish the task at hand. In a 1:1 situation, you have kids so immersed in their device, nary a word is spoken.

The second piece is Access to a network that will give you access to the Web, without which, much is for not.

Late last summer, I was doing an iPad workshop at a school that didn’t have any wifi and from what the staff said, there didn’t seem to be any plans to have it installed. It was certainly a challenge, running a show and do workshop with no wifi but it wasn’t near as difficult as it was going to be for them, trying to implement iPads in the classroom with no wifi.

Wifi access is even an issue in a wired school district like West Vancouver. We have become victims of our own digital success. We are stretching our wifi capacity to its limits and using your digital device is frequently more of an exercise in frustration, then it is a learning experience. I have even had to used my phone as a wifi hot spot, just to get through a lesson. Not only is this an annoyance, it is costing me $$$ in data use.

The thing that makes the digital device so powerful as a learning too, is its ability to access and share information. Without network access, both you and your students are handcuffed.

Some Quick Thoughts

I will wrap up with a couple one liners I heard over the year that resonated with me and are worth sharing, as I think they are very important as we move ahead in the world of Technology in Education. All but one I agree with.

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“Failure is inevitable but from this failure will come innovative teaching practice” – Tony Wagner

“Teachers who are using technology effectively in their classrooms, need to share” – ???

“I take offence to the notion that I cannot do my job without a digital crutch” – Spencer Capier

I’ve yet to have student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it.”Sean Junkins

“The B.E.S.T. conversations I have had with the people who know THE MOST about TECH has never been about TECH.” – Jen Wagner

“A notion of public education that’s anchored in technocratic values functionally inhibits the realization of democratic values.” – Toby Steeves

And so wraps up another year of iPads In The Classroom.

Stay Tuned for an exciting project my good friend and colleague @Scapier are working. We will release it in the new yearand hope to turn the teaching world on its ear!

Merry Christmas!

Dec 092012
 

I tried something a little different this week, just to change things up and get away from all that silly prescribed curriculum nonsense. Just for fun and a little curiosity, I resurrected a problem solving activity I learned back when I was a kid and introduced it to the modern digital classroom. The good old, “balance 12 nails on the head of one” activity.

What inspired me to bring out the old hammer and nails, was that I recently became the last person on earth to read “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the Outliers, Gladwell makes reference to a math experiment that Berkley math professor, Alan Schoenfeld, does. It is pretty simple, nothing fancy. Schoenfeld gives the subject a math problem to figure out and then times how long it takes for them to find the solution or give up. In the book, Gladwell uses the example of a nurse named “Rene” who takes 22 minutes to figure out Schoenfeld’s math problem, then Gladwell goes on to explain in great detail why this is significant.

The long and the short of Gladwell’s well taken point, is this… (I paraphrase and take some poetic liberties here) In math, we tend to condition kids to try and figure things out quickly. We view those kids who can come up with the answer quickly, as the ones who are good at math. The ones who are left plodding along and take longer to figure out the problems, are the dullards and relegated to the numeracy dung heap. (1 guess which group I was a part of) In other words, our system rewards speed at the expense of thoughtful processing of the problem at hand.

This got me thinking about how the digital device might be furthering this fast is right conditioning we instill in our children. Just Googling it (as handy as it may be) might be compounding the problem of not taking the time to think things through. Why bother trying to figure out anything if you can just find the answer using your handy-dandy digital device?

But back to the nails… What I wanted to see was just how long it would take for kids to get frustrated with the task and either reach for their digital device for the answer, or give up.

The task is simple. Balance 12 nails on the head of a single nail, I had hammered into a block of wood.

  • I distributed 9 sets of nails to the class, so the kids would have to work in small groups. The idea being, that the problem solving process would be a collaborative.
  • I told the kids NO DIGITAL DEVICES to look for the answer on.
  • The first class I just let work straight on through, the second class, I promised a hint at the 20 minute mark.
  • Within 5 minutes some groups were looking for their device, which I quickly quashed.
  • At the 10 minute mark about 1/4 of the groups had given up but started back up again, at about 20 minutes whether I gave a hint or not.
  • In my first class, one student figured it out at the 45 minute mark and in the second class a pair of students figured it out at the 40 minute mark (with a hint).

The sad thing is, this was probably the best class I had all year. Fortunately I can put a curricularly relevant spin on the whole thing, so when the kids go home and say “Mr. Rispin is the best because we played with nails all class!” I will be able to justify it.

What this whole exercise has proven to me is that, we need to give kids the opportunity and the time to work on problems, whether they be academic or just silly nail hanging like activities, sans digital device. We spend so much time trying to cram curriculum down kids throats, that we forsake the value of thoughtfulness.

What is even more interesting, is that I was asked five times in less than 36 hours after that activity, if we could do that sort of thing again! So I think I am going to make it a Bi Weekly activity. Problem is coming up with the challenges.

Nov 102012
 

Well it is over. Months of prep and anticipation leading up to the Ed Tech Teacher – iPad Summit USA 2012, has come to pass. By all accounts it was a roaring success and in spite of what the title might suggest, it wasn’t an unrestrained orgy of apple awesomeness. Sure I have never seen so many apple products in one place at one time in my life and PC users hid in the shadows so’s to not attract attention to their digital deviance but the discussions were rarely about the hardware.

Although it was impossible to for me to attend all the sessions, there were some common themes that seemed to thread their way through most of the presentations. It was as though all the experience gained from two years of iPad use, had come to a confluence at this conference. Everyone seemed to have come to the conference with the same conclusions about the state of education and the role of technology… thus far. Some of it good, some of it bad and some of it, people didn’t really know what to make of it.

So here is what I am calling my Stuck in an airport, missed my connection, sleeping in Dallas, conference take aways. None of which I am endorsing or panning, it is purely my read on the conference.

  1. Best practice has yet to be established. No we have not gotten it right yet and it is going to take time and mistakes will be made. “Failure is inevitable” had become the unofficial slogan of the conference. The Conference Keynote speaker, Tony Wagner, uttered these words right out of the gate and it seemed to catch on. We are only just beginning to create this new paradigm for learning and so we need to expect mistakes to occur but perhaps more importantly, attendees came away with the understanding that we need teachers who are willing to make those mistakes, if we are going to get anywhere.
  2. How can I teach differently using technology was the single most significant question being asked. Without exception, everyone came to conclusion that in order for technology to truly reshape the learning environment, our teaching practice had to change. Without a change in teaching practice, technology will continue to be ineffective and relegated to a position of novelty item. Now the trick is to figure out what different looks like and the people at this conference are up to the challenge.
  3. Being a slave to test hampers innovative teaching, including innovative use of technology. I tweeted this out during a session and it seemed to resonate. This is where I am glad to be a Canadian teacher. From my point of view, standardized testing has handcuffed many of my colleagues south of the border. Much of teaching revolves around making sure their kids will “pass the test” first and foremost and if they have time they can try some innovative teaching using technology. I am not sure how a teacher can be expected to “teach differently” – “make mistakes” and “be innovative” if their students have to demonstrate their learning using a century old method. What is more, a teacher’s performance is measured with the results of these outdated tests. It makes no sense AT ALL.
  4. We have to let go of the traditional view of teacher. This discussion had a bit of an elephant in the room feel to it. How do you tell a teacher they have to change their practice or make a teacher change their practice? On more than one occasion I had heard the chilling “time to cut loose those who can’t or are unwilling to change”. In one session I suggested that it might not just be an “old teacher problem” as many young teachers have the same struggle with letting go of the “look at me model”. By the end of one session in particular, the issue wasn’t seen as just a teacher problem but instead a systemic problem. At one end we have people saying we need to get back to basics and the other we have people saying we have to change everything. All the while, teachers are evaluated and judged by old school criteria, just as their students are. Want teachers to change their practice. Change their job description.
  5. The age of the “Free Agent Learner” is upon us. I love this label. I have been trying to come up with an explanation for those kids who take control of their learning and these three words encapsulate it perfectly. Keeping in mind that access to information does not an education make, those people who are able to “educate” themselves using the information at their disposal are truly Free Agent Learners. With the advent of MOOCS, iTunes university and masses of FREE courses being offered via the internet, we are going to soon be faced with the problem of how do we accredit this type of learning.
  6. We have to give teachers the support needed to become comfortable with using technology in the classroom. Although there was a lot of talk about “not fearing technology” one tweet in particular by @sjunkins “I’ve yet to have student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it…” sort of rubbed me the wrong way a bit. The general consensus was that you can’t just hand out a bunch of devices to students and teachers and expect magic. “Give teachers time!” seemed to be the view of most but not time to adapt, if we did that it would take decades. If you want teachers to adopt technology into their practice, you need to Give teachers time to learn, to prep and to experiment. Someone even suggested adopting Google’s Twenty Percent Time so that teachers would have time to change their teaching practice. I liked that idea very much!
  7. Teachers who are using tech need to share! the phrase “pockets of innovation” was used repeatedly at this conference. Although there were some people who were coming from schools that had made some significant changes across the board using technology, most people were in situations where tech use is isolated. Teachers need to share their experience and expertise with others. Simple as that.
  8. PLN’s are a must for tech using teachers. I have spoken about this very thing more than once in this very blog. It would seem that the Personal Learning Network is a MUST for today’s tech using teacher. There is just so much going on and so much to learn that the traditional face to face learning network of days gone by just isn’t going to cut it. Whether you start by trolling on twitter, taking an iTunes U course, using a Zite for news and views… it doesn’t really matter. Educators who are looking to change their practice, need to actively seek information about the new world of education, if they hope to keep up.

Some other minor themes came up as well but I won’t flesh them out.

  • Tech HAS to be school supported. You can’t expect teachers to fund it.
  • Admin has to be as innovative as teachers.
  • Politicos have to stop making bad education decisions.
  • Innovation is incompatible with back to basics.
  • Kids can write, they just don’t write with a voice anymore.

I am sure I missed some things here and I would hope other attendees who happened to read this will pipe in as it was a lot to take in. In addition to the above, I would like to add what I found was missing from most of these discussions. I know this is my own personal opinion but I am sure others would share it.

With all this said however, there seemed to be one thing missing. One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Thanks to the team at www.edtechteacher.org for inviting me to an outstanding conference.

Check out the conference Back Channel #ettipad

iPad Summit Wordle