Monday, February 24, 2014

Tech Edge, iPads In The Classroom - Episode 100, Favorite Apps

I am proud of the team that has gotten us here. First and foremost Dan Hartig who stuck with me, learned with me and keeps thinking about new ideas. To Allison, Laurie, Mellisia, Amanda, Taylor, Qizhen, Ji, and Dandi- thank you for hosting, co-hosting and making it happen. The next milestone is 100,000 viewers on YouKu...

Look at the rest of our work on iTunesU or YouTube:

iPads in the classroom/ techedge01

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gaming in Education- Observing Minecraft in the Classroom

In the last couple of weeks I have observed a few classrooms from Kindergarten to middle school using Minecraft EDU to support 21st century learning. To be completely honest I have not played Minecraft before this week, although I have watched my kids play it on the iPad and computer. I understood the theoretical affordances but for the first time I actually saw it in action in classrooms.

My first visit was to a fourth grade classroom facilitated by Jason Wilmot. As we walked into the classroom you could immediately sense the buzz of activity. As Matt Gordon shared later: "the first thing you get is engagement". All students were engaged moving around (the virtual world), asking for peer help, showing each other how to accomplish specific task. We (Jason, Ji and I) decided to start students with unstructured time seeing what patterns emerge. Jason is weaving in specific skills required by district and state standards making sure that students are receiving all the skills necessary.

I settled next to two students building houses one right next to each other. They were discovering functions and clearly helping each other produce the outline for their respective creations making sure that they each have enough space. This simultaneous communication off and on line is something we have observed across all grades. This is a fantastic illustration of the 21st century skills of Communication and Collaboration.

Moving to a different group I saw a student avatar in what seemed to be a vast underground cavern creating bales of wool and setting them on fire in large quantity. As I watched I could see no real reason for his actions. I casually asked: "I see that you are lighting a lot on fire". "Yes" he answered eagerly, "you see I am lost and can't find my way out. My friend is in the area", here he tapped the shoulder of his friend on the adjacent computer "he knows where he is. I hope that if the fire is strong enough he can see it and help me get out." I smiled. What I initially saw as a mindless activity, turned to be Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.

Two students were introduced to me as the "resident experts" since they have been playing at home for a few months. These two were mindlessly building, it seemed as if their position as experts was actually stopping them from exploring and innovating. I asked "What are building?"
"a house" they both answered almost in unison.
"can you make doors or windows in Minecraft?" I asked. One started showing me how you can make windows and seemed invigorated by the more structured task. Later I challenged him to create a second story with stairs leading up. He seemed somewhat disinterested but before I left he proudly showed me his new house with a roof garden and stairs that actually worked. His friend switched to creating a water area, a challenge to create a pool with a slide sent him on a creative bend as well.

On a visit to Matt Gordon's class in Horizon Middle School in Kearny we saw a real "Digital Making Space". His classroom hosted a variety of students working in Minecraft (set of tasks), creating video with iPads, editing work and probably a few other tasks that I failed to catch.

Both Matt's and Jason's spaces showed that the interaction of virtual world and a challenge led to Creativity and Innovation.

The biggest challenge that I observed across settings is the power of students to damage each others creation. While this problem can be managed with the tools embedded in Minecraft EDU, we would like to challenge students to create a civil society and foster democratic principles in which students set the norms and explore implication of personal and community boundaries. In this way we can address not just digital citizenship but citizenship in it's broadest sense.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Breaking Cycles

We still teach computers as if we have this one...
My son who is a senior is taking a few computer applications classes right now. He came back one day and said: "You're big on technology. Why am I learning to make tables in Word? I use Google docs anyway? Who's going to use Word in five years?" He likes to tease me about what I often preach (I switched him over to Google Docs) and what he sees at school. And he is right, why are we teaching the ins and outs of any application when we know that it is going to be replaced soon?

The answer, I said, is that no matter what word processor you will use it will likely have similar functions and affordances ( my new favorite word) to Word. So knowing words well will help you figure out whatever you might be using in five years or even ten. Yes, he answers, "I get that. But if the goal is really to let us think flexibly why are we doing it step by step? Why can't the teacher say: Make a table for this data and let us figure it out?" I had to agree with him here. He continued describing a class in which students are asked to follow with precision a set of production steps, never are they given a problem to solve and the freedom to experiment or *gasp* find a solution online. How is this leading to independent use of technology?

He continued describing the reason his teacher might be pursuing this approach. Some of the students in the class seem to have really hard time following the steps and finding their way around the application. So it seems that the teacher has crafted a "fool proof" method of teaching in which students follow a set of instructions. As a result students can reach a narrow outcome but completely miss on the generalized skill that both requires and fosters cognitive flexibility. Where is peer scaffolding, problem based learning or higher order thinking? It may very well be that the class and its content is a remnant of a bygone era when we knew Microsoft was forever...

To a degree we at UNL sometimes follow the same path. We still provide computer labs all over campus despite the fact that all of our students have their own (2 or more) devices. It used to be an issue of equity and access, but no more. In effect we are requiring our students to buy computers twice. Once for their personal use (laptops usually) and then labs (through student technology fees). Why can't we stop? I believe that at this point we do not actually have the vision of what we want so we plod along doing what we've always done...

In a meeting of the EdTech special interest group on campus this friday I we were discussing flipping classrooms. I ventured- if we are to ask teachers to flip, shouldn't we do it first? Shouldn't we live the dream before we ask others to follow?

In teacher education we need a bold vision, showing our students what it means to teach in this new era. We can show them what it means to fail and reboot (as Laurie and I did two semesters ago). Just like the artist in her studio we try and retry until it is successful, learning that a creative product is never perfect but always a work in progress. Part of it is technology- creating spaces that foster participation, creativity, and learning. The other part is true interaction and learning, make our own reflexive practice visible to our students- who soon will be teachers themselves.