Friday, August 28, 2015

Starting a new year

My students showed up to class. 
Most with bags full of stuff. Less than third had devices (other than phones) out. Ready to learn, even this generation is not digital first, most are composing on paper first. I wonder if this is a permanent difference or whether with devices early in schooling? Is it going to disappear, like cursive or shorthand? I am digital first but is there a way to enable both technologies in our classrooms? Is it wise?

A few days later they are here with devices creating, sharing and using a fantastic array of apps. They are still taking notes on paper. The variety of media is empowering. A new semester is off to a good start.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tech Transition Moments

I was traveling internationally recently. Before my flight, I was prompted to check in early online, only to find out that I needed to go through the same thing at the airport and get paper boarding cards! Finally on the plane, as we approached landing in the US we were all handed a US customs form to fill out. I filled it out as I have done many times before wondering when we will switch to a digital form. After we had landed I found my answer. Customs have already switched to digital and at the airport we used a scan of our passports to recreate the form through a digital station (we still got a paper receipt). The transition is happening all around us but at least right now it is creating duplication with paper and digital causing redundancy. It could very well be that agencies are afraid to pull the plug on paper just to find some critical flaw as did and other digital enterprises.

Something similar happened in my son's sixth-grade orientation. Our school district is moving into 1:1 with Chromebooks starting in sixth grade. After explaining all of Chromebooks and the useful things they can do, the teachers shifted to talking about the paper planner and how crucial it was to keep it updated. Sarah, my wife, took one look at my expression and signaled me to hush. And so I did. But the thought of using a paper planner when all students have access to a digital one that is far superior seemed like an awkward transition. I figure that this transition is going to take awhile and will depend on the way teachers are using technology. My guess is when teachers use a digital calendar they will see the utility for students considerably faster. I am also aware that I am doing this from my bias as a user that is thoroughly digital; perhaps I am biased. The two questions are: 1. will students be able to use a digital calendar effectively to assist learning? And 2. Which format will be a step in developing their workplace skills? Said another way what will be the workplace expectation when they graduate college about a decade from now?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Minecraft, Art, and ADHD

I was recently asked about my experience with students with ADHD. I am always careful talking about disorders. Most of the time such discussions are framed generally but the person asking has a real person in mind, an individual I have not personally met. I find myself asking more questions than providing answers keenly aware of the great variations that are typical in attention-disorders.

As a teacher, researcher, and later as an academic I have worked with students with disabilities and attention disorders for about twenty years. In fact in many ways I myself function often in ways that are similar to those with ADHD- patterns that I seem to have picked up from my students.

When I answer questions about attention disorders we invariably end up discussing the intersection of my two worlds of expertise: education and  technology. Sometimes instead of technology it is art. It almost always goes like this. I am not sure s/he has an attention disorder because when s/he are creating art or interacting with a device, they are entirely focused for extended periods of time. With that focus, they are able to handle frustrations a bit better and persist in their chosen task.

It is not, of course, a sign that the attention deficit (with or without hyperactivity) is gone. Instead, it is the nature of the task itself. Playing Minecraft or drawing supply a rich set of feedback cues that keep attention. Trying to create while regulating the result and making the small adjustments needed to improve seems to draw those with attention problems in and flood them with enough overlapping input that satisfies the need for stimulation. It may very well be that the rich activity helps block irrelevant information that student with attention problems find hard to block when their senses are just marginally engaged (for example during lecture).

If that is true, what is our next step? Gamification may offer part of the answer, art the other. Can we engage all learners and especially those with attention problems with rich, focused overlapping inputs? I believe that rich applications like Minecraft can do it, so can pottery or playing an instrument. These environments have to be carefully thought out, though. For example teaching geometry through painting is the wrong approach because we are trying to achieve a secondary goal through a primary activity. The power of the activity is the overlapping foci. As we disperse the focus, the impact will be significantly reduced.

For such experiences to be effective we need to design immersive experiences carefully, so the focus remains, and we achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Two ways we can use wearable in ed and 3 reasons we are far from 1:1

In recent months, I have noticed an upsurge in posts and conference sessions about wearables in the classroom. This trend follows a similar one a few years ago following the release of Google Glass. I love new technologies and try to champion their contribution to learning, BUT I do think that we are still far from being able to use wearables in the classroom effectively. I see three major points:

1. Cost. Most (if not all) wearables are still dependent on a primary device to connect them to the internet. As a result, the cost for a wearable combines the cost for a primary device (usually a smart phone) and the cost for the wearable. Since wearable costs are similar to the primary device, this essentially doubles the cost for the consumer or school system. Some school districts that I work with are starting to think about a two devices per student approach. In that scenario, most are discussing a laptop and a mobile device. A third device would be a luxury that is still far from what we can do now.

2. Real estate and attention. Screen real estate is critical in education. The capacity to show large images and text is paramount in reducing cognitive load and increasing student focus. Having a small distracting device will not add to learning.

3. Privacy. Most school-related devices are bigger and require a decision to carry them around with you at all times. Wearables, on the other hand, are designed to be on (the person) at all times. When they belong to the school, it raises serious questions about privacy.

Despite that I can see two main uses for wearables in the classroom that could make a difference.

1. As a teacher device. Teachers can use a small wearable (perhaps most notably a Google Glass type device). To manage their classroom on the go and access information during teaching, workshops and meetings. It is a stretch, would require some specialized software and would have very limited impact on education (it is a teaching not learning device).

2. Special education. A watch type device can be significant in helping students in special education learn to monitor themselves nd provide timely feedback and measurement without the need for constant supervision from teachers. This ould increase learning for special education students and reduce the load on teachers.

I think wearables are still a long way from being 1:1, but I can see targeted use coming in the next few years.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Tim Gunn, Premiere League, Grammarly, and Metacognition

Photo from
[CC BY-SA 2.5]
via Wikimedia Commons
1. As part of my summer reading, I have been reading Tim Gunn's book The Natty Professor. I have been introduced to Tim Gunn by watching Project Runway, a favorite of my significant other. In one section of the book, Gunn describes listening in on museum visits. He reflects on open-ended questions and being purposeful about presenting ideas and artists. He is essentially calling on teachers to make conscious choices about invoking ideas and creating authentic learning events that focus on things that matter not esoterics like shapes in the picture or dates in history (I am not saying they are not important I am just saying they are not the key ideas).

2. In a recent blog post by Mr Parkinson (in the UK), he suggests bringing the Premiere League into the classroom as a way of creating fun and different learning events. In the short post, he describes how teachers can create a fantasy league in a way that provides learning opportunities in reading and math. It is a way to discuss budgeting, making economic choices, and discussing statistics.

3. Grammarly is my new favorite tool for writing. Since I do a lot of writing a tool that helps correct the small and larger errors is welcome. I have found Grammarly to be incredibly useful (though not perfect) as I write. There are critical voices out there about Grammarly e.g. this post but the my point here is not really about the tool. I fell in love with Grammarly, not because it is an excellent tool to correct your writing (it does help). I fell in love because it gives clear explanations of why it marks what it presumes is less than optimal writing, allowing me to make decisions about what I want to change and what I do not. Further, over time it decreases my errors since I have learned the reasoning behind the correction and avoid common errors.
See more about Grammarly here.

All of these disparate thoughts connect to one central point. The value of using authentic learning experiences is in the kind of metacognition it can produce. Going to the museum is great, but the real benefit comes from the explicit thinking about process and observation that is scaffolded by a knowledgeable and capable teacher. Bringing a sports fantasy league (or a mock stock portfolio) into your classroom can be fun. Again, the real value comes from discussing the decisions people make and the learning from real world results. Without the metacognitive discussion, it becomes a competition for points where learners may be winning but still missing the central point. It is the same using a tool like Grammarly; it pays dividends when you read the explanation and think through writing patterns.

The bottom line is that learning always benefits the learners much more when they understand the why and how of learning leading them to more general understanding and a growing capacity to direct and own their learning.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Value of Shared Experience

My sister has been visiting with her daughter (8). All three young kids start each morning on their iPads. My sister became frustrated with extended periods of side by side playing and watching. Finally, she suggested they watch a movie together instead. I agreed, and after thinking a few minutes asked: "how is watching a movie together better than individual iPad use?" My sister said nothing apparently thinking about my question.

Later that day she said: "I watched them as they watched the movie. They laugh together, chat about the movie and have fun together." In essence, she was pointing to shared experiences that can then be a basis for communication and reminiscing. This can happen with devices as well if kids play together in a shared digital space such as Minecraft.

Curiously, this coincided with a video I watched by Dan Ariely on Big Think. In the video, Dan discusses the fact that the vacation experience has three phases, anticipation, execution, and reminiscing. All phases have emotions attached and a very different "half life". I would argue the same can be said for learning experiences (and vacations, at least good ones, are learning experiences). We create anticipation, a learning event and then opportunities for recall. We hope that the reminiscing phase is long and carries with it relevant lessons.

The shared experience becomes important across all phases. First, it heightens the anticipation. We have all seen learners getting each other excited about a coming learning experience. During the event, learners share key moments with oral comments, back channel comments, or even non-verbal comments (e.g. laughter). Finally, and maybe most importantly, learners can remind each other of the shared experience. In this way, they keep enhancing the memory trace and increase the half life of the learning event.

I would argue that the value of shared experiences is linked to the uniqueness of the learning experience itself. If students are busy practicing and gaining fluency (essentially performing at the lower range of their Zone of Proximal Development) then shared experiences are much less important and might actually get in the way. When creating we also seem to need some time without interaction with others to let our ideas grow. But, when we use meaningful and challenging learning events the value of the shared experiences increases.

Individualizing instruction to fit student personal needs must be balanced with shared learning experiences!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The 8 Apps I use in Teaching Now

I often talk about apps (not just iOS) and at any time point I have over 400 of them on my devices. This time, however, I would like to talk about the apps thatI use when I teach.

Like everyone else teaching with technology I have a set of go to apps, the ones I trust and rely on. I also try out a few new ones every semester but only a few are added to the repertoire.

1. Google drive/ docs. I use Google for almost all student papers. It allows for easy peer and instructor feedback, resubmission and tracking. A bonus is that it maintains ownership on the work.

2. LMS Blackboard. I think that every instructir needs a source platform usually called Learning Management System. Not everything happens on it but it serves as the point of origin and repository of links dics etc. Mine is Blackboard as an institutional not a personal decision.

3. Socrative. I have tried other formative assessments apps (e.g. kahoot quizizz) but I always come back to Socrative. It is the most flexible, simple, abd device agnostic option. I use it for quizzes, back channel, polls, and exit tickets.

4. Padlet. This collaborative space for creating and sharing is a staple for group work. At times I use it as a backchannel.

5. iMovie. I create movies on the go for online and face to face classes. I usually edit very little and I find that iMovie is perfect for this kind of work.

6. YouTube. I use many movies in teaching. Almost all of them consumed outside of class time. I share my own movies (see 5) as well as those created by ithers and shared through Edutopia and other top sites.

7. Twitter. I actually do not use it enough. I use it mainly as prrofessional development and to find resources for teaching.

8. Presentation- I have almost completely stopped using power point and their clones in class. I have old ones that I provide my students for structure but use
very infrequently in class. I am agnostic and I use google slides, powerpoint, keynote and prezi almost interchangeably.