Mar 042013
 

teacher farmerQuestion: What do farmers and teachers have in common?

Answer: They are both outstanding in their field… but they also have a few other commonalities.

  • Both farming and teaching have been around forever.
  • Both farming and teaching are nurturing professions.
  • Both farming and teaching have historically been respected professions.
  • Both farming and teaching have a very important foundational role in society.
  • Both farming and teaching have changed immensely in the past 30 years.

And now you are asking yourself… “Where is he going with this?”

Well this post started when I was marking some end of term assignments in which the kids looked at “Super Foods” and why they are better for you than the corn syrup saturated, genetically modified Franken-Food you can find in your local grocery isle.

This past term we spent a significant amount of time looking at the modern food industry and how it has changed our food supply so significantly, that there is very little food available these days that hasn’t been touched in some way by mechanization and science.

We talk about how big multinational companies, control virtually everything that gets produced on most modern farms. I talk about how the food industry in the United States, has successfully lobbied government to put into place the Veggie Libel laws, which effectively muzzle any kind of dissent or criticism about how food is produced. We talk about how only those with enough income can afford to make healthy food choices and that in some States there are even laws put in place that prevent farmers from selling healthy organic food products, to people who want it. Finally, as if the planets had aligned on queue… Just as we were wrapping up the unit, the Horse Meat scandal hit the news and illustrated that, food producers don’t have to tell you what is really in your food.

The kids were obviously relieved to hear that things are not quite so wacky up here in Canada but I caution them that we are on a similar road as the good old US of A. The question I then put to them is, how did this happen? How did “the people” lose control of their food system?

By the end of the unit, I usually have the kids looking at the food they eat with a much more critical eye and parents asking me “what in gods name did you tell them?”…  Which brings me to how I came up with me Teacher – Farmer comparison.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 7.51.32 PM

gawker.com/

Between marking sessions I was perusing my twitter feeds and saw one tweet, which led me to the headline you see to the left.

Upon reading the short article, all I could think was that I am really happy that I teach in Canada. Unfortunately , I had to remind myself that same sort of teacher bashing is happening here too. It would seem that all over North America, the teaching profession is under attack and public education is on life support.

It was then that I made the huge cognitive jump required to connect farmers and food, with teachers and school. I started listing off the following comparisons on the back of a students assignment (Thank goodness for erasers! ) and it all seemed to fit together like a shiny red apple on the teacher’s desk.

Laws are being put in place to silence teachers and their supporters, just as the Veggie Libel laws silence anyone who questions the food system.

Many jurisdictions in the USA already live with the reality that only the wealthy can afford to send their children to good quality schools, just as they are the only ones who can afford to purchase good quality food.

If public school systems are dismantled and handed over to private interests, it is conceivable that a single corporation will own the curriculum that teachers deliver, just like Monsanto owns the seed that farmers plant?

If big business is handed the keys to public schools, it is not unimaginable that they will administer them much like large stock yards or chicken houses.

The final comparison is one I came up with as I was writing this very post and it is a bit disconcerting to me but none the less carries some weight. The massive changes we experienced in our food production over the past thirty years, came on the back of technological advances. Those advances and the people who were offering them, promised a gastronomic utopia, where everyone would be fed and the world would be happy but at some point things went sideways. In many respects, these changes we are seeing coming down the pike in our education system, are fueled by a similar promise of a technological driven utopia in education.

As someone who is one of the purveyors of the technology that is being sold as education’s salvation, this is a bit problematic. I can rationalize my position by saying that I am one of the few who encourages thoughtful adoption of technology in the classroom but is that enough?

Even after my little (if not bizarre) revelation, I still feel there is a place for technology in the classroom. Technology is not the problem. The problem is allowing private interests to control that which is intended for the common good. Just like our food supply, our education system will become toxic if private interests get control of it.

Just say no to Education Inc. There is too much at steak. Tongue Out

The Smoking Apple

K-12 Database Jazzes Tech Start Ups, Spooks Parents

When private interests dictate public policy

Knowledge and Public Education in Crisis. “Accelerated Privatization of Global Education

Why Are Walmart Billionaires Bankrolling Phony School “Reform” In LA?

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

 

 

Feb 032013
 

Got my hands on a new Surface RT this week. Found it just sitting there on my Principal’s desk doing nothing, so I absconded with it. Actually, being a charitable fellow, Le Grand Fromage let me have it so I could give it a good going over. So I present to you, the Microsoft Surface – Ed Tech Smack down. I will have it for about a week, during which time, me and my cracker jack team of digital device experts will put the device through its paces.

The Testing Team

SONY DSC

Grumpy old dad Seasoned Educational Technology Expert with a keen eye for innovative design and application

Crazy 14-year-old Emerging Ed Tech aficionado who has a knack for finding practical Ed Tech solutions for herself and classmates.

Tenacious 10-year-old Ready willing and able to lay thumpin on the 14-year-old to get equal time on the household digital devices. Budding Blogger and Ed Tech neophyte

The First 24 hours

Grumpy Old Dad

Really like the look and feel of the surface. Doesn’t feel cheap and has some heft to it. The iPad… Well it is the iPad what more is there to say that hasn’t already been said

After trying to set up my user profile on the surface, I thought to myself “Man the iPad is Fisher Price Simple” but here is the thing. The iPad is a one person device. You set it up the way you like it quick and easy and it is a reflection of that one user. The surface on the other hand, might not be Fisher Price Simple BUT you can set up multiple users on one device.

This makes me think the surface would be a better device for a school, which might have dozens of different users, especially districts that are running on a Microsoft Network. With the surface you can set up workgroups and other useful multi user functions, especially if your organization is running a Share Point Network. (SPN) This leads me to the second important distinction between the iPad & Surface.

Historically, Share Point did not to play nice with Apple products. It would drive me nuts when kids using an Apple product couldn’t access my online classroom. With the most recent version of Share Point however, Apple users can navigate through an SP site without too much trouble BUT with that said. The iPad still has some annoying issues with scrolling and rendering a SP site. The Surface on the other hand has full functionality in a SP environment.

Once I set up my profile and visited my Share Point classroom, I figured I would grab Google Chrome and load it onto the Surface. Unfortunately Chrome does not have a Windows Surface RT version… I assume it is coming but for now I am stuck with Windows Exploder.

After I mucked about trying to get Chrome loaded on the surface, I had to get to an Online meeting so I tried to load the Blackboard Collaborate applet and lo and behold… No applet for the Windows Surface RT operating system.

I see a theme building here…

14 Year old

  • “COOL! Is that the new Windows thingy? Can I play on it!?”
  • “Keyboard is cool but it is weird”
  • “Too much moving around to get to stuff”
  • “The corners are too sharp”
  • “WHAT! Angry birds is $4.99?”

10 Year old

  • “What is that?… Oh cool!… Where is the iPad?”

48 Hours

I am a little less pleased with the surface at the moment. It is almost like the Surface tries to be too much, both a tablet and a computer. As such, it is not Fisher Price simple like the iPad. Perhaps it will just take some time to unlearn Apple and get the functions of the Surface burned into my thick skull.

A couple other negatives I discovered in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a decent twitter app and Internet Explorer wants to render everything in compatibility mode. Both are little things but very annoying, sorta like a thorn in your sock that you can’t track down.

What I do like about the Surface is that I can upload documents into Edmodo with it, something that has been a Royal Pain in my backside with the iPad since I started using it in the classroom. As user-friendly as the iPad may be up front, it is far too restrictive when it comes to moving YOUR OWN FLIPPING FILES! around. The old “Apple way or the highway” thing gets a bit wearing when you are trying to get work done. This is something that the Surface does not do to you. Need to put a file someplace, no Problem! Just like a regular computer.

I also found that I liked the sound quality of the Surface when the kids discovered the live streaming radio feature. It is part of the Xbox live integration on the device. I have a deluxe Xbox live membership, so all the cool features available to me on the TV, are now available on the surface. Kinda nifty!

The last thing on today’s list is the keyboard cover combo. I like the ergonomics of it but I don’t really like the feel of the keyboard but with that said, it is better than having to pack around a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. My dislike of the touch and feel of it is probably more a function of 30 years of using real keys. I don’t even like my Macbook keyboard. I like big, stiff, noisy keys like those on an old Hewlett Packard electric typewriter. The kind that you can actually feel the mechanical parts clicking and clacking under your fingertips. Ahhh Those were the good old days.

14 Year old

  • “I still can’t believe that angry birds is $4.99!”
  • “I like how Google Docs is exactly like it is on the computer, using the surface. I hate trying to work on Google docs with the iPad, it doesn’t work right!”
  • “I don’t like the onscreen keyboard, getting to the numbers is stupid! Why can’ they all be lined up on the top like the iPad keyboard?”

10 Year old

  • “It works good with my classroom blog but I didn’t type anything in so I don’t know if that works or not”
  • “I like the music streaming! I can listen while I play Cut The Rope.”
  • “I don’t like how the on-screen number pad works, it is weird that you have to change keyboards to get to the numbers”
Jan 252013
 

The-Tipping-Point-Malcolm-GladwellWell, as usual… I am light years behind the curve. I always seem to be a little slow to arrive at the party and when i finally do, all the cool people have already left but I never no mind, it’s all good. Better late then never my dear old pappy use to say.

My most recent late arrival, was a book called The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. I found it sitting on the old and irrelevant table at Indigo while doing some Christmas shopping. Normally, I would have never even noticed the unassuming title but since I spent most of 2012 listening to educators yammer on about the “Ed Tech Tipping Point…” When I saw a book with “Tipping Point” in the title, it caught my eye.

Now that I have finally arrived at the party, long over though it may be, I can finally put my two bits worth into the Ed Tech Tipping Point discussion.

First of all, I have to say, I enjoyed the book. Gladwell brings up some very interesting points about social epidemics and I certainly understand why some educators are looking for just such an epidemic to occur with Education Technology. However, after hours of careful consideration, my conclusion is that there wont be a Gladwellian Tipping Point in Ed Tech. Instead, advances in Educational Technology will to continue to be (as it has always been) more of a slow submersion into the digital domain. A dipping point as it were.

Coincidentally, not a week after having come to this conclusion, I stumbled upon a Blogpost from Mind Share Learning, talking about the Ed Tech Tipping Point in their Top Ten EdTech Predictions for 2013. They seem to think that 2013 WILL be the year the Ed Tech tipping point occurs but I am holding my ground…. There will be no tipping point in 2013 or any other year and here is why.

I will try best I can, to relate Education Technology to Gladwell’s book. If you haven’t read the book, give the original article (on which the book is based) a quick read The Tipping Point – June 3, 1996 (New Yorker Magazine).

Stickiness

From a purely hardware perspective, the tipping point has already happened. If you don’t believe me, just look in your nearest high school classroom. There is a digital device in the hand of 90% of the kids and based on the degree of digital distraction going on at staff meetings, one in the hand of 90% of the staff as well. If I ask kids if they have a digital device to use for any given lesson, the majority of the class reaches in their bag or pocket and pull out more computing power then put a man on the moon. Now I realize that this situation is not the same for every school community but at my school, we long since tipped and are swimming in the digital deep end. The hardware is here and in the hands of many if not most but still we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point.

Just as Gladwell tells us in his book, in order for an epidemic to occur we need “it” to stick and technology stuck to education long ago. The jump from scroll to bound books is an example of technological change. A little more recently, I remember how people thought VHS was going to revolutionize education; then desktop computers came along and were suppose to change everything; then the internet came along and distributed leaning systems were born, which promised to change the way we learn. Now mobile devices are being held on high and trumpeted by proponents as the most revolutionary thing education has ever seen… Adoption of new technology has always been a part of education but there is still no tipping point as Gladwell describes it.

In my mind this can only mean one thing, although technology itself is sticky, hardware is not. We find ourselves chasing the hardware, not unlike a heroin addict chases the dragon. The last hit is never enough and this is one of the reasons we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point. When we focus on hardware acquisition, what we end up doing is moving the tipping point further and further away. If this continues, a Gladwellian tipping point will never occur.

Law of the Few

This is the idea that there is a small group of people who start, champion and spread a social epidemic to the masses. Gladwell refers to these people as Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Any one of these types of people can act as a tipping point but these types of people frequently act in more than just one of these roles. For example, many well-connected people are also good sales people, like Chris Kennedy (my superintendent). He has taken on the role of consummate Ed Tech ambassador. Myself, I am more of a grunt or as Gladwell calls it, “a Maven”. I don’t do a very good job of connecting with others or selling the idea of Ed Tech but if anyone asks for information or help with Ed Tech, I am your man.

Believe it or not, Gladwell’s law of the few is alive and well in education. These types of people are littered about the education profession and they have done a very good job selling the idea of Education Technology to their colleagues. New converts are joining the Ed Tech epidemic daily but just like the social epidemics Gladwell uses in the Tipping Point, it doesn’t infect everyone. Not everyone in Gladwell’s social epidemics bought Hush Puppies, got syphilis or committed suicide and just like a Gladwellian epidemic, not everyone in the teaching profession has bought into the epidemic of Education Technology.

Championing, Connecting and convincing others to join or become a part of a social epidemic is a difficult task and there is no reason to expect that everyone in the teaching profession will buy into the Ed Tech Revolution. Does this mean these are bad teachers? No… By Gladwell’s measure, it simply means they didn’t need, connect or were sold on the value of Education Technology.

Context

The third element of a Gladwellian epidemic is context, or the place where the would-be epidemic lives. This element can involve social, geographic, economic and other factors both big and small. It is here, I believe, that the most significant Ed Tech’s tipping point is hiding. The two most significant being, access too and pedagogical value of, Educational Technology.

Access to Educational Technology comes in many forms. As I described in the stickiness section, the school I work in is not starved for hardware. It is readily available but we still struggle with access to what we need to run a technology rich classroom environment. We have become victims of our own success and as such, we have significant difficulties assessing resources on the web because we frequently exceed the bandwidth capabilities of our network. (insert eye roll here and say… “Rich people problems!”) As ridiculous as it sounds however, if our digital tools don’t work, there isn’t much point in using them and teachers tend not to use things that don’t work.

If we want teachers to use all the latest gadgets, we need to give them access to not just the gadgets but the information sources they are built to use. I have done workshops where staff want to use iPads in the classroom but they have no wifi. This immediately relegates the iPad to nothing more than a high-tech paper weight. There are other school districts in this world that can’t afford to maintain their existing hardwired networks, never mind creating a learning environment that delivers ubiquitous access to all staff and students.

Without dependable and equitable access to the digital landscape for all stakeholders, we will not be seeing an Ed Tech Tipping point anytime soon, never mind in 2013.

As for the value of Educational Technology, It has to be said… The jury is still out. Proponents see wonderful things just waiting to be unleashed on our children’s learning spaces, yet the stalwart traditionalists have yet to be sold on its value. Kids who function well in the absence digital tools or perhaps I should say are not dependant on digital tools, still seem to out perform those who are immersed in the digital world. My own children are a case in point, they excel because they have strong reading, writing and numeracy skills, learned the old-fashioned way. In my household, digital skills are an adjunct to these old school skills not the means by which these skills are acquired.

The fear amongst many however, is that we are trying to replace the tried and true with the flashy and new. In doing so we are moving in a direction that puts engagement before good old-school foundational skills. A colleague said to me the other day.

“Our push to adopt digital learning environments seems to be an effort to engage the academically weak kids at the expense of the academically strong kids”

It is this kind of thinking on which Educational Technology has become hung up. Does technology really improve learning outcomes and who are we sacrificing in the process? Some feel the solution is to simply “unload the dinosaurs” then you will be rid of this kind of fear mongering but it has been my experience that this question resonates within the teaching profession, from newbie to retiree.

It is here that I believe the most significant Ed Tech tipping point lies. Prove to the world that technology improves learning outcomes for everyone. Make people understand that Ed Tech is not a replacement but an addition to a child’s foundational skills. Show people that old-school and new-school can coexist, that a learner who uses technology to amplify their foundational skills, will out perform those who don’t. If we do this, you might have a Gladwellian epidemic on our hands.

To conclude

As I said early on in this post, in some respects, the Education Technology Tipping point has already happened. Thousands of teachers have bought in and are using technology in their classroom on a daily basis but people like me, seem to look at EdTech integration as an all or nothing proposition. It is almost like we are in a bad episode of Star Trek – The next Generation and the Ed Techies have taken on the roll of the Borg and Old-School Teachers must be assimilated into the continuum but this is not how Gladwell’s epidemics work.

Not everyone is a part of a social epidemic. Technology has its place in education and it is becoming more significant as the years go by but an en masse adoption of technology in the classroom will not happen because epidemics don’t infect everyone, nor should they. As with any population that is exposed to an infectious agent, you don’t want everyone to get the plague. You need a portion of the population to survive and carry on.

I am glad there are people in our education system that stop and say “What the hell are we doing?” “Is this right?” and “Is this what is best for everyone?” Our education system doesn’t need lemmings, it needs thoughtful practitioners who challenge social or technological epidemics.

My final word… There will be no Ed Tech Tipping Point in 2013.

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. 😛 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

;

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.

;

“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

Oct 222012
 

I have been struggling to come up with a topic lately, especially since I no longer have my muse. The collapse of the iPad cohort in exchange for a BYOD (sometimes) classroom has made for interesting times. If the truth be known, I actually have even more to write about then I did last year but none of it is earth shattering or ground breaking enough to spend much time on. I have just been keeping my ear to the rail waiting for the next freight train of a topic to come down the line and so I present to you the BYOD Vs iPad Classroom

Those who know me, know that I am not really married to one platform or the other. Yes I have an iPhone an iPad and a Mac Book but the last two are the property of the school district. My own personal computer is a PC and even though I have an iPhone, I am actually partial to Android devices. My apparent “love” for apple products is actually more a requirement of my job than anything else, so I hope to give equal treatment to both sides.

In two short years, the iPad has undoubtedly changed the landscape of education. The device has proven to be a powerful digital tool in the hands of skilled users but its “must have” status seems to be more about marketing then it is about any proven utility. Sure there are cool things going on in the classrooms of the world using iPads but there are other powerful devices out there doing cool things too. The reality is that the iPad is not the only game in town and BYOD recognizes that.

I for one applaud digital diversity because one device does not fit the needs of all. Yes the iPad is marvellous but so are half-dozen other devices out there made by Samsung, Asus, Motorola, Sony, Acer and this doesn’t even include the recent addition of ultra books to the market place but this discussion isn’t about simple device comparisons. This post is about looking at the realities of digitizing the classroom with school owned devices versus student owned devices.

In this blog post, when I refer to the iPad classroom, I am referring a model where a school owns one or more sets of iPads, to be shared within the school. when i say BYOD, I am referring to a model where kids bring their own technology to class and the device can be any type, make or platform. What we are looking at are the realities of each implementation model and where they are best suited.

Cost of technology has always been an issue with school districts. Hardware costs and tech support are a significant chunk of the budget. Although hardware costs have come down over the years, the rate at which technology becomes obsolete has made it financially impossible to keep up. If School Districts could off load some of that cost by having kids bring their own device, that is a financial burden they do not have to bare. With that said, not all families can afford to buy their child(ren) a digital device to take to school so where does that leave us. You are either leaving some out of the loop or the school is still buying a handful of devices for use by those who cannot afford to buy.

Control seems to be a smouldering issue when it comes to any digital device in the classroom. For any number of reasons teachers want some if not total control of the content dispensed by the device and how it is used in their class. For the most part this desire for control is simply to ensure that a lesson goes as planned but there are other issues around inappropriate use of the device on class time which opens a teacher up to liability. With BYOD, it is FAR more difficult to control the content being dispensed and how the device is used. In the iPad classroom, teachers have far greater control of what is going on, simply by virtue of the way the device is set up as a school device.

Apps are a common thread which runs through many of the pros and cons of these two models. In an iPad classroom, the apps on the device are the ones the teacher needs for the purpose of running their class. Although we can recommend App sets to students, when a kid brings their own device, the applications they have on their device can be quite the potpourri. This means a student may or may not have an app you would like them to have so they may not be able to participate in the class the way you would like them to, or they are constantly distracted by the less than “academic” apps they have loaded on it. The result is…

Planning for a BYOD classroom is far more difficult than a iPad classroom because you have to take into account all the different types of devices kids are carrying and what it is kids are able to do with them. Not all devices can run all apps, some won’t run flash and some devices won’t let you upload files while others can… On any given day, the list of possible compatibility issues between device and lesson is staggering. The iPad classroom is easy, you know what you are working with and what to expect from the device, so planning your lessons and assignments is pretty straight forward.

As a result, the degree of Digital Literacy required in the BYOD classroom is significantly higher than in the iPad classroom. If both teacher and student are not competent in how to make a particular device work for the task at hand, far too much time is spent troubleshooting. If a teacher demonstrates a task using an App on a iPad but a student has a PC Laptop, that student should be able to quickly find a suitable way to do the task. Although I would suggest that a BYOD teacher should have a good idea as to what alternatives are available, their primary role of “teacher”, should not be to figure things out for students.

Where the BYOD plan comes into its own is with student to device RATIOS. With the Class Set model, the iPads have to be shared amongst an entire school and frequently that class set has fewer devices then there are kids in the class. This limits access for students and creates logistical issues around saving and sharing files but perhaps more significant is that hands on time with the device is rarely consistent. The BYOD student on the other hand, is free to access their work anywhere,any time. The device becomes an extension of the their academic life and in a perfect world, the BYOD student becomes far more digitally literate.

The question then becomes, which model is best? and my answer is simply this. There is room for both models in our education system.

The reality is that most students will need to be digitally literate at some point in their lives and they should be well on their way to being so by the time they leave High School. For this to happen, they need regular access to a digital device and the BYOD model provides this. At elementary however, constant access to a device isn’t really necessary or even desirable. As my wife says, “at grade 1 you are just trying keep the kids from putting their fingers up their nose… Smearing those same fingers all over an iPad is more of a health hazard then it is a learning experience” with that pleasant image in mind, the iPad model is perfect for the elementary classroom because you can utilize the device when the learning conditions are right.

When you look at the two models they can be seen as the two ends of a digital literacy continuum. As the child moves through the grades, they move toward digital independence and these two models can be implemented independent of each other or in combination to achieve this end.

Of course I have over simplified things in the diagram above as there are all sorts of details I have left out in my description. Even if I had gone into detail, there are at least as many things that could turn my best laid plans to dust. What you should take from this post is that the implementation of digital devices in a school system is not a one or the other choice. What is required is a program of diverse digital deployment.

FURTHER READING

Why BYOD Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen For Schools

Are Schools Prepared to Let Students BYOD?

BYOD in school not as easy as ABC

 

Sep 282012
 

This week I have an outstanding guest post by Sophia Coppolla from Onlinecollege.org  to share with you. It is a detailed look at building your Personal Learning Network. This is something I spoke briefly about this past summer in Personal Learning Networks – Not Just For Adults Anymore but Sophia ramps it up a bit in her take on building your PLN with a TON more suggestions and resources.

It is a great read and I am very pleased to present it to my readers.

The Social Media Guide to Growing Your Personal Learning Network

Personal learning networks are a great way for educators to get connected with learning opportunities, access professional development resources, and to build camaraderie with other education professionals. Although PLNs have been around for years, in recent years social media has made it possible for these networks to grow exponentially. Now, it’s possible to expand and connect your network around the world anytime, anywhere. But how exactly do you go about doing that? Check out our guide to growing your personal learning network with social media, full of more than 30 different tips, ideas, useful resources, and social media tools that can make it all possible.

Tips & Ideas

Get started developing your social media PLN with these tips and ideas for great ways to make use of social tools.

Guides

Check out these guides to find out how other educators have used social media and other tools to grow their personal learning networks.

Tools & Resources

Want to really make the most of your PLN? Use these popular social media tools for learning to grow and take advantage of your network with the latest technology.

  • Classroom 2.0: In this networking group, you can get connected with other educators who are interested in Web 2.0, social media, and more in the classroom.
  • Ning: On Ning, you can create your own social website to bring your PLN together all in one place.
  • Diigo: Collect, highlight, remember, and share all of the great resources you find online with your PLN on Diigo, and annotation and online bookmarking tool.
  • Google Reader: With Google Reader or any other great RSS tool, you can subscribe to blogs and stay on top of it all.
  • Slideshare: On SlideShare, you can upload presentations to share with your personal learning network.
  • Twitter: Perfect for finding people to add to your PLN, participating in chats, and sharing what you’ve found, Twitter is one of your most powerful tools for growing and maintaining a personal network.
  • Facebook: Another powerhouse for PLNs, Facebook is a great place to connect, share, and grow your network.
  • Scribd: Read, publish, and share documents on Scribd with your PLN, whether you’re sharing classic novels or lectures you’ve delivered. Plus, you can find documents and get connected with their owners.
  • Yahoo! Answers: Find and share information, connect with others, and build upon your personal learning network on this popular answers site.
  • LinkedIn: The gold standard in professional networking, LinkedIn is a great place for education professionals to get connected.
  • Quora: Similar to Yahoo! Answers, Quora offers a professional place to share your knowledge and grow your network.
  • Google+: Often overlooked in favor of Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is a growing network that offers lots of great possibilities for developing PLNs.
  • Pinterest: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ get a lot of love from personal learning networks, but Pinterest offers a great way to find other educators, and great resources.
  • Delicious: One of the most popular social bookmarking sites on the web, Delicious makes it easy to share what you’ve found and find new followers for your PLN.
  • Paper.li: Using Paper.li, you can curate and share your favorite PLN tweets on a daily basis.
  • Scoop.it: Like Paper.li, Scoop.it is a great tool for curating an engaging PLN magazine based on resources from your network.
  • AddThis: Become a sharing machine with the AddThis toolbar, a great way to immediately share web resources on the web’s most popular social media tools.
Sep 132012
 

Well I was thrown a curve ball this year. My iPad cohort has morphed into a hodgepodge of new and old technology. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the numbers to run a straight iPad cohort so I am getting kids carrying everything from the latest and greatest in Apple and PC products to pencil and paper.

Now being one to complain (a lot), I am tempted to go on for a couple thousand words lamenting about how hard done by I am but I know I would not garner much sympathy from many of my colleagues. So I won’t! Instead I will look at this mishmash, as a little slice of reality, a true reflection of what the average secondary class looks like and carry on.

This year I will be able to write about realty, rather than an iPadian utopia.

For example, tomorrow I am going to have the kids write a journal response to the statement Highschool Should End at Grade 10 and instead of taking work in via a common app or digital format, I will be taking work in on Paper – Evernote – Google docs – Keynote – Microsoft Word and a holy host of others, because that is the reality of the modern classroom.

What I have also come to realize or perhaps resign myself to, is that with BYOD, a Personal Digital Device is just that a Personal Device. It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will be carrying one on any give day, never mind everyone carrying the same device. What I have also come to believe is that for BYOD to work, it is up to the student to make it work. The teacher can set the expectations around use and digital formats in which work needs to be done and after that, it is up to the student.

If the teacher takes on the role of the “director of the device” the classroom simply becomes a Twenty First Century version of the teacher centered classroom. If the purpose of BYOD is to help students become more independent learners, then the device needs to fit the learner, even if that device is a pencil and a piece of paper.

It is a brave new adventure in iPads In The Cla… I mean, iPads, Laptops & Paper – n – Pencil In The Classroom. Let’er fly and see where we land.

Wish Me Luck!