What Covid19 has taught about parents, kids, teachers and the education system.

Corona Virus

Well, here we are shuffling through our 6th week back at school since Spring Break ended and a few things have become abundantly clear about our education system. First and foremost we were not prepared for a pandemic. Yah I know, I have a penchant for stating the obvious, but within the BIG obvious lesson, there are all sorts of little lessons we can gleen from this Pandemic. Some we already knew and some not so much, so sit back and enjoy a light analysis of what Covid19 has taught us about parents, kids, teachers and the education system.

Teachers Need To Digitize Their Instruction

If I had of walked into the first staff meeting this past September and announced that “You will all be expected to have your instructional materials digitized and your online classrooms set up and ready to go, because there may be an outside chance that you will have to teach from home this year…” I would have been laughed out of that meeting, perhaps even had the odd cookie or coffee thrown at me as I ran dodging and weaving from a hostile room.

I have been a Digital Access advocate in education my entire career and although educators have been slowly wading into the digital domain these past 24 years, Digital Access has never been a priority for most. Online classrooms, digital resources and all that is involved with the digitization of teaching and learning is seen by many as an attack on the teaching profession. If you digitized your teaching, you were betraying your profession. Then along comes Covid19…

We (educators) no longer have the luxury of sheltering in place in an effort to protect our profession from the digitization. Like it or not, Covid19 has forced us all to embrace the tools that make Digital Access to learning possible.

We Like Our Children In School

As a teacher, you sometimes feel that the world looks at school as a nothing more than a necessary evil. A place you send your kids, not because you want to, but because someone said somewhere along the line that kids have to be in school.

Since the pandemic started, I have seen a noticeable transition from people begrudgingly accepting the time we spend in school, to unconditional acclamation of our public school system. Suddenly the discourse has gone from grumbling about our schools and teachers to “OH MY GOD HOW DO THEY DO THIS DAY AFTER DAY… I can’t wait until schools are back in session?!”

COVID19 has focused some much needed light on just how dependant our society is on our public school systems. We have a fresh understanding that without our schools, modern society does not run very well. We depend on our schools to not only educate, but to separate parents from their progeny so they can work, socialize and be something other than Mom and or Dad.

Kids Need to Have Independent Learning Skills

I have been trumpeting the need for kids to be Free Agent Learners for years now. Not only has it never been easier to learn something on your own, it is a required skill in today’s modern workplace. Learning waits for no one and those who can take advantage of this opportunity, will rule the world.

What Covid19 has illustrated to me, is that far too many kids do not have the Independent Learning Skills needed to take charge of their own learning. Our students still depend on someone in the same room telling them what to think, what to do and how to do it.

Where do we go from here? Well… We have the technology and now that Covid19 has illustrated the need for arms length learning, I think students will quickly acquire the Independent Learning Skills necessary to be Free Agent Learners. This is NOT to say “get rid of teachers” it is simply a pragmatic expectation in a world where it is possible for kids to be independent learners, but also a world where the ability to learn without the guiding hand of a teacher in the room is a necessity.

Some Kids Don’t Need Me

As a teacher, I like to think I am important and that my students need me around. The reality is that in some cases, I am just in their way. I have always know this, but this Pandemic has certainly shown me that I need to just step back and provide those students who have the aforementioned Independent Learning Skills, the opportunity to direct their own learning.

Granted my teaching area (Information Technology), lends itself to more independent learning situations and I already do this to some extent, but I am thinking I may need to implement the IDS (Independent Directed Study) model a little more liberally for some of my students. When you think of it, who am I to hold a kid back? Giddy up and see what they can create without me!

Schools Do So Much More Than Just Educate

I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone, but schools are a conglomeration of so much more than just book learning. Schools have been quietly moving towards being one stop shops for youth and their families for years. Unfortunately there has never really been any official recognition of the non learning services provided on a day to day basis. Kids and families depend on schools to socialize, to counsel, to discipline, to protect, to feed, to provide drug and alcohol intervention… The reality is that many of our kids are finding this pandemic to be more than just a gap in their learning. There is so much that goes on in our schools that is not even funded never mind recognized, yet our kids and their families depend on these services and connections that their schools provide.

Conclusion

Forever the pessimist, I will guess not much will change once we are back to “normal” in public schools. We may have to juggle school schedules, teachers will be better prepared to deliver curriculum online, but our new normal will ultimately look a lot like the old normal. The curriculum will not have changed. Our need to house children someplace safe while parents are doing the things that parents do will still exist. Teachers will look at their roll as teacher the same, and I am not sure the world is ready to let kids be Free Agent Learners.

Covid19 will undoubtedly remain in our memories for sometime and it will change the way we do many things. Unfortunately when it comes to our schools… I don’t think we will notice much of a change in 18 months time.

Learning Java Script – Kicking in old school.

JavaScriptWhat an embarrassment! My online learning project is a shambles and I have resorted to a book. A real honest to god paper book on learning Java Script. Oh the shame, oh the horror, oh the heresy… Will I , can I ever live this one down? Meh… Who cares. This project is about learning isn’t it and I wanted to use a book so be it.

I have a little secret however, this book comes with a companion website www.javascriptworld.com that gives me the files and scripts, which I can use as I go through the book chapter by chapter.

What find useful about this format, is that I can (as I have in the past) use the information in this book to help me build a course of my own.  This is a common trait in teachers I find. You can give them a Course in a Can, all ready to go and they end up tweaking it suit their needs or teaching style.

This is the problem with all packaged curriculum whether in be online or hard copy. Teachers will always dissect it, modify it and repackage for delivery in their classroom and it will not look anything like it did when it came out of the government approved curriculum factory.

I think this trait of compulsive re jigging of curriculum comes from a teacher’s preservice days, when doing a B.Ed., you would swap unit plans amongst the members of your cohort and adapt them to suit your student teaching assignment. This ultimately saved an immense amount of time and energy because you didn’t have to hunt down resources, write out the curriculum word for word and then present it. More time could be spent on the craft of teaching, coming up with creative ways of presenting the materials. With the odd tweak here and there to make the unit plan your own, you were ready to go in a day or two instead of weeks.

Today, I still find hard copy materials useful in planning my units or lessons but with the use of the internet there is a plethora of digital resources I can call on to add to the framework that hard copy materials give you. This book is actually just one of a number of resources I have been gathering to learn Java Script and will use to cobble together my own course.

So far these resources include:

What this means, is that my learning project has moved on from trying to learn Java Script for the sake of learning Java Script to learning Java Script for the purpose of having a serviceable course to deliver to my students. Don’t worry, I have no delusions about becoming a Java Script Guru through this process. What I suspect or perhaps I should say hope, is that by going through the process of building this course, I will acquire the skills needed to support my students through a beginning level course rather than leaving their learning up to Khan Academy.

 

 

 

 

3D Printing in my classroom

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Our Printer – Cat NOT included

3D printing in my classroom has taken over my life. I need to go to 3DPA (3D Printing Anonymous) post-haste. Last night was the final straw as I was flopping and flipping about, trying to figure out how I am going to get 30 student 3D print jobs completed before the end of the year.

Since this very cool piece of machinery arrived in my classroom May 1st, I have been doing everything in my power to get the kids up and running. Creating their own 3D objects to print before year’s end. The main focus has been figuring out how kids can create bobble heads of themselves.

The machine we decided to purchase the Flash Forge 3D printer based on the reviews we found on-line and ultimately the price point. As conscientious educators, we had to seek out a product that would provide us the most bang for our buck and I think we hit the mark. So far the printer has been bomb-proof and worked right out of the box. One of the extruders is a bit finicky but I think it is just a simple matter of finding the right setting. The biggest challenge is capturing an image that you can actually print.

We have had a varying success over the past three weeks trying to capture and render a 3D image of ourselves. Our first go round we were following a guide from a website called Instructables. It used an app called 123D capture to collect our images and render a 3D model. Unfortunately, of the 30 kids in the class, only 4 of them managed to capture and render an 3D object worthy of printing.

This is not to say that this particular method wasn’t any good just that it wasn’t intuitive or efficient enough to get a classroom of 30 kids up and running without a lot of hand holding and troubleshooting.  I would still recommend reading the guide as it has a lot of good information for preparing the capture for printing so it is still worth a perusal.

Enter Skanect

I stumbled upon this bit of 3D capture software while looking for another method of capturing 3D images that was quicker and less fussy. Essentially it is a brilliant piece of software that allows you to hack the scanning power of the XBox Kinect and employ it to do a 3D scan of pretty much anything you want.

Now all I need to do is connect my Kinect to my laptop using a $2.99 adaptor from Amazon, fire up the software, sit a kid down in an office chair, line them up into the scan zone and tell them to slowly rotate around for 30 – 50 seconds. Voila! Bob’s your uncle and you have a 3D scan of yourself.

The following scan of pretty old me took 15 minutes from scanner to printer. Kids work coming soon.

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Resources

Here are some 3D scanning and editing resources worth checking out.

Skanect – 3D scanning with your XBox kinect scanner

Instructables – Great resource for learning how to creating 3D objects for printing (FREE & Paid)

123D – 3D capture software. On and offline versions (FREE)

Meshmixer – Great little 3D editing tool for prep your images for printing (FREE)

Sculptris – An AWESOME 3D sculpting too worth checking out (FREE)

 

 

 

 

 

Education reformers don’t know what they are talking about

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

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Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

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Teaching Children to Be Good People – A chat with Annie Fox

teachingKidsHiResCoverI had the opportunity the other week, to have a chat with Annie Fox; educator, novelist and radio host, about her new book Teaching Children to be Good PeopleAdmittedly, her book has absolutely nothing to do with iPads in the classroom but I figured I would try to mix things up a little. Bring some humanity back into my digital domain as it were, because when it comes right down to it… School is still about creating good people, good citizens and good learners. Isn’t it?

The following is the good stuff from our conversation and if the truth be known, it actually has a lot to do with going digital. I hope you enjoy it.

Me: When you say “good people” what are we talking about?

Annie: When I say, “S/he’s a good person,” I’m usually referring to a generosity of spirit. Someone who consciously looks out for the wellbeing of others. Someone who turns toward a person or situation that needs help rather than turning away.

Me: In your book you talk a lot about communication with your child and how this is the key to raising a “good person” In your introduction you say, “We parent-educators are gardeners. We plant seeds and offer nurturing lessons that our kids can internalize.”

Is it possible to communicate effectively or nurture another human being, through a digital device?

Annie: Of course you can communicate effectively through a digital device, but because we are social critters who have managed to survive throughout the millennia by “reading” each other’s subtle facial expressions and body language, And observing each other in the context of our relationships, I don’t think we can fully nurture another person without being right there with them… at least a good part of the time. So when tweens and teens tell me about some guy or girl they met online with whom they’re “in love” it gives me pause. I don’t doubt for a moment that their digital connection is important to each of them. And I don’t invalidate the support and encouragement they may be providing for each other. However, this isn’t the way teens truly learn the fundamentals of creating and maintaining healthy relationships. The digital connections can certainly support “real world” relationships, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for them. Same with parents and kids. Texting is not a substitution for parent-child conversations.

Me: There is a HUGE push education to make kids more digitally literate. They say it is a crucial skill for the future but it seems to me that the digital device can be extremely dehumanizing. Is it possible that the digitization of our schools is compounding the difficulties we seem to be encountering in raising, teaching and nurturing our children to become “good people”

Annie: I agree. Increasing reliance on digital communication reduces (in the minds of many kids) the need to actually have real conversations. And they seem to have lost confidence in their ability to have real conversations. Hey I understand if you’re having a conflict with a friend or a bf/gf, you’re going to feel uncomfortable, worried, confused, stressed, etc. When we’re uncomfortable we tend to want to avoid the source of that discomfort. I understand, if you’re really hurt or angry that it might seem easier to text your friend or your bf/gf: “I can’t believe you did that! You’re such a  #$%#@!!” rather than sit down, face to face and discuss what’s going on. But a face-to-face conversation (without technology), where I talk and you listen and then you talk and I listen is more likely to lead to greater understanding. And that’s going to lead to healthier relationships.

Kids need to understand how to manage their destructive emotions. That’s the biggest challenge in growing up. But the availability of the digital connection to peers discourages kids from taking the time they need to calm down and step back from the precipice before they respond. The result is a culture where the go-to place is anger and we’re all in the habit of adding to the “social garbage” that has become the air we breathe.

Schools embracing technology aren’t to “blame” for any of this. Nor are parents who provide their kids with access to tech toys. But it’s a question of balance, isn’t it? And I don’t see a lot of adults modeling and teaching that kind of balance within their family. When we fail to set limits on social media and web use, we fail to expose our kids to other ways to nurture our intellect, our creativity, and our relationships. Follow that path and it’s harder to teach kids to be good people.

Me: The next question I suppose has to be, is it possible to teach appropriate use of a digital device at school, if the same message is not being delivered at home?

Annie: If by, digital device you mean a cell phone, many schools wisely restrict their use during class or during school hours. That’s not to say though that schools shouldn’t teach their students to be responsible digital citizens. They should be part of the solution in that way! If the same message isn’t being reinforced at home, yeah, that’s a missed opportunity on the part of parents. And yes, it makes the school’s job that much harder. Better if parents, educators and students come together to discuss the use and abuse of technology in an open community forum. And together, as fellow stakeholders, come up with policy and guidelines for home and school.

Me: You mention in your book about the pressures kids feel to be someone else or something else in order to fit in. We see examples of how the digital world can facilitate the façade and sometimes ending with tragic results.

Annie: Like I said before, it’s a matter of balance. Technology’s not going away and that’s a good thing! We need it to solve many of our current problems on the local, regional, national and international levels. Technology makes a powerful servant. But it’s a lousy master. But we have to recognize that there is an addictive quality to using technology. Changes in the brain have been observed after a relatively short amount of time surfing the net! Our brains are adapting to the new ways of searching for and processing information. What has also been observed is a change in the part of the brain that is associated with empathy. Which may explain why teens aren’t always responding with their “higher angels” when they’re online with peers. Combine the “connection addiction” with changes in the “empathy sector” of the brain” and add in the fact that most tweens and teens suffer from peer approval addiction (doing and saying whatever it takes to fit in) and we’re faced with the perfect storm.

Me: Can you suggest any possible ways that a digital device and the digital world could be used to help kids become secure in their identity and ultimately the kind of “good person” you are talking about?

Annie: There are plenty of game and story apps that use the technology as a way to get kids thinking about themselves and others in respectful and compassionate ways. My own Middle School Confidential graphic novel apps do that. And there are thousands of wonderful websites that promote just causes that appeal to the hearts and minds of young people. Remember the Save the Rainforest campaigns that got elementary school kids raising money in the ‘80’s? Well I just googled “Save the rainforest” and got to an incredible site by the Nature Conservancy! What an awesome example of technology teaching kids about philanthropy and social responsibility and environmental activism.

Bottom line, we’ve got to insert balance in our kids’ lives. There’s great stuff to be had through digital connections and there’s also great stuff to be learned from unplugging, talking to each other and stepping outside and looking around at the natural world.

THE END

So there you have it folks, human connections are still required to raise a functional, caring human being… Hooda thunk it?

Microsoft Surface – An EdTech Smack down

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

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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”

The Generation We Wont Let Grow Up

2012 was once again an interesting year for Public Education. From Delaware to Chicago to British Columbia and back to Ontario, pundits and the politicians sold the story that all the struggles our youth encounter can be laid squarely on the shoulders of every teacher that has ever walked this earth. Just short of being the spawn of satan himself, teachers are source of all that is wrong in this world, especially as it pertains to today’s youth. unemployment, failure to launch, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems… you name it, it is the education systems fault.

I however, would beg to differ. Yes I know, as one of satan’s classroom cronies, my objection is predictable but read on, I might actually make some sense by the end of this post.

I see education as being waaaaay down on the list of roadblocks the youth of today face. From the bedroom in which our kids are conceived, to the boardroom in which they are received, our children have more stacked against them than just what people perceive as an inadequate public education system. In fact, I would say there is simply one roadblock our youth face and that is, we have stolen their adulthood or at least postponed it indefinitely.

The obvious question then becomes, who is an adult? and I found a satisfactory answer in a Psychology Today article entitled Who is an “adult?” The path from adolescence into adulthood. March 3, 2010 by Jennifer L. Tanner, Ph.D.

…it became apparent that becoming adult was about, well, becoming. Across cultures, Arnett’s findings have been replicated. Accordingly, an adult is someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and becomes financially independent.

The article goes on to discuss the precise thing I am talking about here and what I refer to as the Abyss of Suspended Adulthood

The funny thing is, the evidence is all there right in front of us. Most of it already identified, researched and publicized. Anyone who isn’t seeking election or is remotely sober, should be able to see that education isn’t the biggest problem our youth face but alas society is myopic. Scapegoats are easier to understand then our own miserable misdeeds.

Although the central issue here is the deadultation (new word) of our youth, the process has three parts working in concert to sideline anyone under the age of 30.

  1. Post Secondary or Starve
  2. An Economy of dependence
  3. The Engineered Child

 

iPads In The Classroom – Christmas Reflection 2012

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

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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!

NAILED IT! – A day without digital

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.

My favourite iPad Apps for the classroom

I spend a lot of time reflecting about my use of iPads in the classroom and I have gotten a lot of attention and positive feedback about my glass half full approach to evaluating these marvelous little devices. Lately however, I have been getting asked “What are your favorite iPad apps for classroom?” and My response isn’t much more then a very thoughtful “ummmmmm?” This is mainly because the list is rather short and hardly impressive and it is strangely missing most of the big names in Apps for Education.

What follows is a short list of My 6 favorite iPad Apps for the classroom. Some cost a few bucks and that might be an issues for those of you who are running a BYOD program. For those of you who’s program uses school owned iPads, you might be able to get some bulk pricing if you contact the vendor. Most developers would love to get a school using their product and would be happy to cut you a break on their App.

Finally, keep in mind that this list is by no means intended to be the last word in Apps for educators. Also keep in mind that I am a Social Studies, Work Experience, Alternative school teacher so I probably don’t use the same set of Apps that a Science or Math teacher would use.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some more reviews on Apps for Pro D and other School related stuff. I just have to get around to it 🙂

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