Saturday, May 30, 2015

It is about Play- Digital and otherwise

I think that most early childhood experts in the last few years have been both amazed and annoyed at the "discovery" of the importance of play to all humans but especially young ones. Play it turns out, is important, maybe paramount, in developing inquiring minds, creative minds that will be flexible enough to deal with the constantly shifting environment kids seem to be growing in. But then again, we've actually known that for a long time.

Since it is summer I have been watching my younger kids at play with friends in and out of the house in a constant movement and social realignment that seems to characterize semi-supervised activities in the summer.

As you can imagine our house has quite a few devices in it for digital creation and consumption. My kids (and their friends when they come) have access to three iPads, PlayStation, three TV's, a Wii, and a laptop computer. As I have shared in the past we do have some rules about digital use. While it is summer we still have strict start and end time, although during the day they have a lot more access to devices.

What I have observed is that kids who grew up digital are constantly shifting between digital and nondigital play activities. They start the morning watching video on YouTube and Netflix a passive waking up activity. As soon as others join in they go outside and play. Yesterday after two days of planning they created a Streetside Sandwiches stand at the corner- an enhanced lemonade stand that they put all on their own including making food items, pricing, choosing location and printing out the menu.

After 4 hours of restauranteurship and a very messy kitchen they all poured back into the house, settled on the couch and played a cooperative game of Minecraft, enhancing the elaborate world they have created together bit by bit over the last few weeks. So what is my point? Well, I have two of them.

First, kids growing up digital have porous boundaries to distinguish different kinds of play. They shift easily from one mode to the next and I do not think they consider one form privileged or more authentic than the other. I believe many adults hold the notion that the physical world is REAL and the digital one IMAGINARY. I believe that for our kids the digital world is just as real and just as imaginary as the analogue one. This is their reality.

Second, given (almost) free reign to choose digital and analogue activities kids move from one to the other based on interest, the participants and other factors. That is, with very little parental guidance they choose well and do not become digital "addicts" as we sometimes worry they might become.

So let's let them play, in and out of digital worlds.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The third most important reason to integrate art and exlporation in schools- amateurism

Amateur is a word used often as a derogatory term. The professional mutters "amateur!" I would like to suggest that schools need to encourage and value amateurism in art, computers, geography what have you. While I think there are many good reasons for that I want to focus on the third most important.

Many have pointed out that there is a growing divide in employment with a growing number of workers working in service jobs. Would I like it if everyone could work for a high tech company with a six figure salary? Yes! Is that likely to happen? Probably not. So while we try and educate everyone to achieve we must remember that it may not be possible for everyone to have a job they are passionate about and fulfilled by.

This is where amateurism can come into place. Schools can teach individuals to engage in meaningful activities that make them whole even and especially when they are not linked to their job and profession. It can offer meaningful lives for all individuals regardless of employment.

The lesson for me is that life is about more than a job, income, and even vocation. If we want informed capable fulfilled citizenry we need an army of amateurs.

Schools can help by letting students dabble, try, and express themselves through visual art, video, and music. And this is the important part: we should do it with permission to stay happy amateurs.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Five things I want to tell parents about iPad use for kids

We have recently finished a parent survey in rural Nebraska about digital technology use. A few things became clear (though not really surprising).
1. All participants had access to the Web in one way or another.
2. All participants had access to multiple devices. The most common were smartphones and tablets with laptops a close third. Over half of the respondents had family access to 4 or more devices.
3. Email, social media, and web surfing were the three most common personal uses.

Parents also worried about device use for children:
The number one worry is inappropriate sites, social media, and interacting with strangers online (27%). A close second is the worry about how children choose to spend their time, namely overdoing device use (19%). Parents were also worried that devices will limit social interaction and creativity (11%) and will not have enough physical activity (8%).

I am a parent and an educator. Two of my kids grew up before the age of the mobile device (well they had a Gameboy) and two are living through this age of mobile digital devices.
Yes my kids have access to iPads. No, they are not addicted and they do spend time outside, in extra curriculars, and playing off line. And, like most parents I am still searching for the best way to manage a balance between device time and opportunities to learn in multiple ways. At the same time I am aware of the opportunities that the devices present to be creative, interactive, and learn about the world. Oh yes and have fun.

So here are some rules I live by:
1. Limit access to devices in both location times and a general time limit. For example we take iPads with us for car use on long trips but never on local drives.

2. No social media until we feel it is appropriate (maturity over age) and safe.

3. On iPads you can easily prevent web access and app store access so kids can't buy anything, although we do not do this. We've had conversations with our kids about what is appropriate and we do not share our iTunes password which means they cannot purchase any app without us.

4. Make it fun to do other things. For that we have to participate, digital devices are a fun alternative when you are bored BUT it does not beat a good game of capture the flag.

5. Maybe most importantly, kids do not have to use "educational apps" to learn or be creative. Many of the apps challenge kids to be problem solvers (the room anyone?), creators (minecraft), or artists. Embrace the learning!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Apple's Folly (in Education)

The news from LAUSD (see here) who is suing Apple and Pearson has made the news and is probably hurting the chances of a large district buying iPads in the near future. Apple is an iconic company and I believe that it has exceptional products that work very well in k-12  and higher ed environments. You can see my reasoning in this short YouTube.


The fail in LAUSD has to do with two major problems. The first is not directly up to Apple, but instead to the partner Pearson education who offered up a not fully developed product to a large district. The second was the lack of preparation of teachers to meaningfully use iPads in the classrooms. These are common problems that are seen in a lot of tech integration including districts I work with. Adding to LAUSD and other district woes are restrictions on student and teacher uses through management software that prevents students and teachers downloading or accessing certain features. Notice that most of these problems are not directly linked to the Apple product but rather to the way it was rolled out.

It's easy to give advice, but given the PR that Apple gets from failed implementation (definitely at the scale of LAUSD), I have radical suggestions about how Apple may prevent implementation nightmares. I suggest that Apple can use its position to insist on having certain pieces part of any sales contract and be brave enough to walk away from contracts that do not include them. I believe that such an approach actually fits with the way Apple image has been projected- no compromises, we know what is good for you and will insist on it!

Remember this ad?

I believe that the same approach is needed here. Walk away if implementation is doomed (yes I know easy for me to say).

Here are the three elements that I think Apple should insist on when selling in Education:

1. Insist on a reasonable professional development for teachers that goes beyond a single event. Part of the contract needs to be a reasonable plan for supporting teachers for at least one year. This can be part of Apple services (they do it extremely well in some places) or internal to a district or school, but insisting on a funded well designed PD is a must for successful integration (and good press, and renewed contracts). We all know what it should look like (if you don't watch out for our next publication).

2. Insist on minimal or NO management software. The management software has repeatedly failed, updated and still falls short of the quick agile response that people expect from personal mobile devices. I will argue that it will never work because our expectation from mobile devices is inherently different from other devices. Students and teachers are perfectly capable of managing devices like iPads. Insist on the personal freedom to make decisions and learning to be a good digital citizens without external control (rewatch the video). I cannot express how many frustrated teachers I meet during PD that describe in exasperated tones how long it takes to use a new app that we just talked about and will take 3-4 weeks to get to them (if not more). For example an description from a teacher I worked with:

"As easy as it may sound when someone says “oh, that’s easy, there’s an app for that”, when working with public school property, it was definitely not easy to just download the apps I wanted.  After several frustrating, failed attempts at trying to download from the app store, I found out that despite having an apple ID to purchase, download, etc., from the app store, that does not carry over to School owned devices.  There was a protocol for getting an app put on a device that was owned by the district.  Unbeknownst to me there were several steps I needed to follow in order to get a single app downloaded to just one device, and there were three.  I could not simply ‘get an app’ downloaded within minutes like a personal device.  Nor could I just delete one that I didn’t like.  One of the biggest barriers so far was not being able to put the apps on the devices when I needed them. "
If you want teachers to use devices and give the product a good name (and repurchases) insisting on full access (even if just to free apps) would be priceless. The note to districts is always the same. If we trust teachers with the lives of 20 priceless six-year olds I think we can trust them with devices. 

3. Make a push for OER (Open Educational Resources). The device gets much cheaper when it is coupled with an excellent free curriculum. OER is on the rise and may very well be a major part of the new No Child Left Behind Act. The move to OER can also pay for the aforementioned professional development. This last bit is not a must in my mind but a strong suggestion that will help use of the great aspects of the device such as iBooks, iTunesU etc.

I love Apple products and think they have great promise in the classroom. That would be my roadmap.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


By Real Change [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
After two negative posts I vowed to write a positive one. This week it's easy. We concluded our semester long professional development course on new literacies integration. As each teacher shared it was clear that we have all changed.

I have to admit that taking this new path was not easy. Laurie (Friedrich) and I had constant discussions about setting clear expectations and providing support. We rejected a notion of formal point by point grading. Instead we embraced an atmosphere of acceptance and support. We were absolutely right, every participant in the class emerged as a true professional and found ways to surpass our expectations (and I am quite sure their own). In an era when teachers are devalued and de-professionalized our humble experiment showed (once again) that treating individuals with trust and professionalism leads to exceptional professional growth.

This group of teachers have put their trust in us and Laurie Friedrich and I did our best not to fail them as a group. This PD was not about grades or reaching some arbitrary standard, instead it was about each professional identifying a goal and working towards it. To be honest I think everyone, myself included, achieved more than we originally planned. Here are some excerpts from our teachers' blogs:

"Even though this class has only lasted a semester, I have learned a tremendous amount. I have pushed myself to try new things and through this process have found incorporating technology into my lessons as simple, fun, and best of all… engaging for my students! "

"I've learned to be a little more patient as I try to integrate technology into the curriculum. I'm still working to be OK with the "messiness" that comes with using new technology for the first time. No matter how much I prepare and try to anticipate glitches, new issues arise when we use an app or website for the first time. I can't let that stop me from trying new ways to enhance learning via technology."

"As I reflect over the course of the semester, I realized I have integrated more technology into my teaching than I ever have before. I now feel more comfortable trying out new technology resources with my students. Previously, I was too scared that the lesson would be a total flop or that my students would know more about computers than I do. As it turns out, I am knowledgeable, capable, and confident in teaching my students skills with the use of technology."

We included in the class graduate students who were not currently teaching. These students with varied classroom experience stepped into the breach and supported classroom teachers as they worked to integrate new literacies into the classroom. Carly is a graduate of our program who will get her first classroom next year wrote:
"This semester I learned so much about how I can integrate technology into a classroom. As I start my first teaching job in August in a third grade classroom, I am very eager to take many of the activities/ideas and the knowledge I learned and use them in my own classroom! I was very fortunate to be able to work with many great teachers this semester that have prepared me and shared many great things I can do in my classroom. I am very thankful for the teachers who invited me into their classrooms for me to observe and help out with the technology aspect of their lesson. From these opportunities, I gained confidence as a new educator."